Wednesday, 2 February 2022

Drifting idioms

I was recently in a quandary. Should I suggest a correction when someone says "What's good for the goose is good for the gander" when I have only ever heard this idiom said "What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander"?

Or do I first go and do some digging to double-check that I am right? Well, the correction was out of my mouth before I had a chance to govern my tongue. Then there was an argument about it. Oops.

So, of course, I sneakily went for a run through Google. That seemed to imply that the saying could go either way, with both versions being recorded. I was of the opinion that "sauce" was the original, and the corruption - or potential mondegreen - was the "good" version. Eventually I found an idiom book, which contained the following entry (Siefring, 2004, p. 252): 

"what's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander

"what is appropriate in one case is also appropriate in the other case in question, proverb

"This expression is often used as a statement that what is right or wrong for one sex is right or wrong for the other as well. John Ray, who was the first to record this saying (in his English Proverbs of 1670), remarked 'This is a woman's Proverb'."

What is interesting is that this entry does not list the antithesis: that if we treat people one way, we can't complain about being treated that way ourselves. 

However, in checking the 4th edition of Ray (1768, p. 115) - who does indeed say that "This is a woman’s Proverb" - we should note that the saying has morphed over time, and contains both "good" and "sauce":

That that’s good sauce for a goose, is good for a gander. 

Interesting. And both sayings are correct, really... or neither are completely correct. For a certain value of correctness. 

That too may be a woman's proverb.



  • Lingo Mastery (2019). The Great Book of American Idioms: A Dictionary of American Idioms, Sayings, Expressions & Phrases. Author.  
  • O’Dell, F., & McCarthy, M. (2017). English Idioms in Use: Advanced (2nd ed.). Cambridge University Press. 
  • Ray, J. (1768). A Compleat Collection of English Proverbs (4th ed.). W. Otridge.
  • Siefring. J. (Ed.) (2004). Oxford Dictionary of Idioms. Oxford University Press. 

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