since 1997, the world's premier FREE website for learners + teachers of English
Sayings

One might as well be hanged for a sheep as for a lamb

This page is about the saying "One might as well be hanged for a sheep as for a lamb"

Possible meaning:
If you are going to be killed for stealing a lamb, then why not steal a sheep (which is bigger and more valuable)? In general, it means that if you are going to get the same punishment, you may as well commit the greater offence.

Note:
be hanged (verb) = be killed by having a rope placed around one's neck and being allowed to drop (a form of execution) | sheep (noun) = animal that gives us wool and meat | lamb (noun) = baby sheep | Also seen as: "One might as well be hung for a sheep as (for) a lamb" and (originally) "As well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb."

Origin: Under English law before the 1820s people were hanged for stealing anything worth more than a shilling. This included lambs and sheep. So why steal a lamb when you could steal a more valuable sheep and get the same punishment (death)?

Quick Quiz

If "one might as well be hanged for a sheep as for a lamb", then the canny sheep stealer will prefer to steal

a. a lamb

b. a sheep

c. two sheep

Saying of the Day

Contributor: Josef Essberger