Sheep's skin

中国日报网 2014-10-28 13:27



Sheep's skin

Reader question:

Please explain “sheep’s skin” in this: “That’s advert in the sheep’s skin of straight news.”

My comments:

In other words, that’s an ad in the form of a news story.

An advert is long for ad and short for advertisement, which is also called a commercial – describing, say, how good, attractive as well as nutritious a fast food hamburger is.

A straightforward news story is a story that tells you what happened when and where as well as why and how.

An advert in the sheep’s skin of straight news, on the other hand, is a piece of advert in the form of a news story. A press release by a fast food chain, for example, is a piece of ad in disguise. It is written in the form of a news story but it really is a piece of propaganda in essence. It is a piece of propaganda because it says what it wants to say and only what it wants to say. It doesn’t always tell you what you as a consumer wants to know. Heck, a press release ALWAYS doesn’t tell you what you want to know – at least not everything you want to know.

By definition, by the way, a press release is a piece of news released by a company or a government organ vouching for a product or advocating a certain policy.

Anyways, something that appears in sheep’s skin may turn out to be a wolf in disguise, and that is the point of our discussion today.

Wolf in sheep’s skin or clothing is the phrase in full. The wolf, you see, scares sheep off from afar and so what it does is that it don’s the skin of a dead sheep and joins the herd. The long and short of that fable, which everyone has heard many times, is that the camouflage helps the wolf to get a meal. Any sheep that mistakes the wolf as a member of them may pay the ultimate price of death.

Sheep are one of the meekest animals around while the wolf is evil and tenacious. And so whenever we say someone or something is a wolf in sheep’s skin or clothing, we mean to point out that they’re evil and dangerous even though they appear innocent and harmless.

In other words, don’t be fooled by appearances.

According to, the story of the wolf and sheep is one of many such stories contained in the modern version of Aesop’s Fables, which came about in the 19th century. But as an English expression, its history dates back to the Christian Bible, which came about a few centuries earlier.

Here, the

The version of Aesop’s Fables that is best known to us today is George Fyler Townsend’s 1867 translation, in which he gives the Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing fable this way:

Once upon a time a Wolf resolved to disguise his appearance in order to secure food more easily. Encased in the skin of a sheep, he pastured with the flock deceiving the shepherd by his costume. In the evening he was shut up by the shepherd in the fold; the gate was closed, and the entrance made thoroughly secure. But the shepherd, returning to the fold during the night to obtain meat for the next day, mistakenly caught up the Wolf instead of a sheep, and killed him instantly.

The King James Version of the Bible, 1611, gives this warning in Matthew 7:15:

Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.

The earliest English version of that biblical text is in John Wyclif’s translation in 1382:

Be ye war of fals prophetis, that comen to you in clothing is of scheep, but withynneforth thei ben as wolues of raueyn.

All right? Alright. From now on, beware of press releases. They may not be as innocuous as they appear to be.

In fact, beware of all wolves dressed in sheep’s clothing.

Here are media examples:

1. WIKILEAKS founder Julian Assange has described re-elected President Barack Obama as a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” and says he expects the US government to keep attacking the anti-secrecy website.

Speaking by phone from Ecuador’s London embassy, where he sought asylum in June in a bid to avoid extradition to Sweden over sex crime allegations, Assange said on Wednesday Obama’s victory was no cause for celebration.

“Obama seems to be a nice man, and that is precisely the problem,” the 41-year-old Australian told AFP, after the president defeated Republican Mitt Romney on Tuesday night to sweep back into the White House.

“It’s better to have a sheep in wolf’s clothing than a wolf in sheep’s clothing.”

Assange complained of the “persecution” of WikiLeaks by Obama’s government.

He added: “All of the activities against WikiLeaks by the United States have occurred under an Obama administration.

“The Republican party has not been an effective restraining force on government excesses over the last four years.

“There is no reason to believe that will change - in fact, the Republicans will push the administration into ever greater excesses.”

- Obama wolf in sheep’s clothing: Assange,, November 08, 2012.

2. For nearly four years, officials here have fought to keep the politically and emotionally charged statement “Guns Save Lives” off city bus shelters.

The city conceded that battle earlier this summer after it lost an appeals court ruling, and advertisements with the controversial statement have popped up at bus stops from downtown to northeast Phoenix.

Aside from stirring conversations about gun rights, the case could have broader implications for how Phoenix regulates the content of ads on the bus and transit system. Civil-liberties advocates say it opens the door for more ads that blend political and commercial messaging.

The dispute started in 2010, when city officials removed from Phoenix bus stops 50 ads with the words “Guns Save Lives” set against the backdrop of a red heart.

Phoenix told the man behind the ad, gun-rights activist and author Alan Korwin, that its message is political and violated the city’s policy against non-commercial advertising on buses and transit stops.

Korwin said the ad, which includes the words “Arizona Says: Educate Your Kids” and a mention of, promotes a website that links gun owners with training classes. He contends liberal-leaning city officials censored the ad because they disagree with its message.


In court filings, Phoenix calls the pro-gun ads “political rhetoric in the sheep’s clothing of an ostensible commercial advertisement.”

- ‘Guns Save Lives’ ads return to Phoenix bus stops, The Arizona Republic, August 14, 2014.

3. If there’s a single historical moment that captures what the author Karen Armstrong wants to convey in her new book, “Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence,” it’s the Christmas-Day coronation of Charlemagne in 800. “Pope Leo III crowned Charlemagne ‘Holy Roman Emperor’ in the Basilica of St. Peter,” she writes. “The congregation acclaimed him as ‘Augustus’ and Leo prostrated himself at Charlemagne’s feet.” If you want to blame the human race’s long, ghastly history of bloodshed on religion, Armstrong argues, be aware that faith is more often the servant than the master of politics.


Armstrong sees the desires, actions and beliefs of most civilizations as being ultimately shaped and driven by political and economic needs. It was industrialization and the demands of capitalism that inaugurated the ideal of a secular society, first in the United States and later in Europe. But secularism cannot, in Armstrong’s mind, supply the average person with the sort of meaning and transcendence found in religion. It replaced faith with nationalism — sometimes literally, as during the French Revolution, when Catholic churches were purged and filled with idols representing the new republic. But while Armstrong claims that “all the world’s great religious traditions share as one of their most essential tenets the imperative of treating others as one would wish to be treated oneself,” nationalism, she says, can’t encompass the notion of a larger brotherhood of man.

Although she doesn’t come right out and say so, Armstrong is implying that the mass-scale bloodbaths of the 20th century were at least in part facilitated by this weakness in secular nationalism. Far from causing the worst wars, religion in a way prevented them, until secularism came along to lose the really big dogs of war. Even what we like think of as the quintessential form of modern religious fanaticism, militant Islam, is often just nationalism in the sheep’s clothing of faith.

- Religion is not inherently violent,, October 26, 2014.




About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at:, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.



Hold your horses

A shot across the bows?

Count your blessings

Pie in the sky

Pulling out all the stops?

Fall in line?


(作者张欣 中国日报网英语点津 编辑:祝兴媛)



上一篇 : Hold your horses
下一篇 : Keep them on side



















关于我们 | 联系方式 | 招聘信息

Copyright by All rights reserved. None of this material may be used for any commercial or public use. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited. 版权声明:本网站所刊登的中国日报网英语点津内容,版权属中国日报网所有,未经协议授权,禁止下载使用。 欢迎愿意与本网站合作的单位或个人与我们联系。