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The meaning and origin of the expression: Pull the wool over your eyes

Pull the wool over your eyes

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What's the meaning of the phrase 'Pull the wool over your eyes'?

To pull the wool over someone's eyes is to deceive or hoodwink them.

What's the origin of the phrase 'Pull the wool over your eyes'?

The natural assumption is that this phrase derives from the wearing of woollen wigs, which were fashionable for both men and women in the 16th and 17th centuries. The phrase itself is of 19th century American origin. The earliest example of it in print that I have found is in the Gettysburg newspaper The People’s Press, November 1835:

We are glad to find among the leading Van-ites, at least one man, whose conscience will not permit him to 'go the whole hog' in pulling the wool over the people’s eyes

The phrase 'pull the wool over your eyes' - meaning and origin.At first sight, the 'wig' derivation sounds like a plausible derivation but there must be an element of doubt about it as the wearing of wigs had largely died out in the USA by the early 19th century. The tradition has continued in Europe where the judiciary of several countries wear wigs in court. Not so in the USA, where Thomas Jefferson (President between 1801 and 1809), although a wig wearer himself, advised the judiciary there:

"For Heaven’s sake discard the monstrous wig which makes the English judges look like rats peeping through bunches of oakum."

If not the wearing of wigs then what is the derivation of 'pull the wool over someon's eyes? Well, we don't know.

See other phrases that were coined in the USA.

Gary Martin - the author of the website.

By Gary Martin

Gary Martin is a writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.

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