What Does Crying Wolf Mean?

Crying Wolf Meaning

Definition: To send a false alarm for danger; to call for help when it is not needed.

Oftentimes, this idiom is used to describe someone who is complaining about something or requesting help for something when help is not needed.

Origin of Crying Wolf

This idiom comes from one of Aesop’s fables, “The Boy Who Cried Wolf.” In this story, which dates back to around the year 600 B.C., a little boy who is a shepherd grows bored at his dull day, and he decides to have a bit of fun by shouting to all the villagers that a wolf has come to eat all the sheep.

All the villagers run to help him, and when they learn that there is no wolf, they are angry. Later, when a wolf really comes to eat the sheep, the boy calls for help again, and no one comes to help him because they don’t believe he is telling the truth.

From this fable, the idea of crying wolf developed. If you call for help repeatedly when you do not really need it, people are bound to disbelieve you and not help you when you truly need it.

Examples of Crying Wolf

boy who cried wolfHere is an example of the idiom being used by a woman who is complaining about a coworker who always lies.

Regina: I’m so sick of Becca.

Ginny: Why? What has she done this time?

Regina: She keeps claiming that someone is stealing her pens. She even tried to get security involved.

Ginny: Maybe someone really is stealing her pens.

Regina: No. No. She’s definitely crying wolf. I saw her hiding her own pens.

Ginny: Ridiculous!

what is the meaning of cry wolfIn this example, two friends are discussing their friend’s claim that he needed their help.

Kevin: Hey! Don’t help Eric.

Steve: Why not? He said he had a family emergency.

Kevin: Don’t believe him. He’s always crying wolf. He’s had a family emergency every single time he’s been in charge of completing a big project.

Steve: I don’t know. I just wouldn’t feel right about calling him a liar to his face.

Kevin: You don’t have to do that. Just tell him you have your own family emergency.

Steve: I don’t want to lie either!

More Examples

In the example below, the idiom is used to say that doctors complain about their jobs for no reason. Someone else then counters this claim.

  • In a rebuttal article, “Sorry, being a doctor is still a great gig,” pediatrician Aaron Carroll disputed the misery claim: Doctors are well respected, well remunerated, he writes, and they complain far more than they should. He predicts people will soon ignore doctors’ “cries of wolf.” But to cry wolf is to complain about something when nothing is wrong. Yet studies have found that doctors suffer from depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and the highest suicide rate of any profession. –The Washington Post

In this second example, the expression is used in a quote by a police officer who says that policeman park empty police cars in front of a store as decoys to prevent shoplifters. He explains that trying to use the empty car to trick thieves isn’t useful because the thieves know the police are crying wolf.

  • At the end of the day we pick up the car, and it’s been spit on and kicked, and you can only cry wolf so often. –Denver Post

Summary

The English phrase to cry wolf means to make false claims or requests for help, or to lie.