I'm looking for an alternative to the phrase, but I can't seem to figure any out.

What's an alternative to "rob Peter to pay Paul?"

  • 1
    Are you asking strictly regarding theft? Or just an idiom that means one part (of the whole) antagonizing the other part (of the same whole) possibly without the other part knowing? Using the phrase in context would be more helpful.
    – TylerH
    Commented Jan 28, 2014 at 20:05
  • 3
    Credit card juggling is obviously highly context-specific. But we don't actually know OP's exact context. It could even be that spoil the ship for a ha'porth of tar might be more appropriate. More context, please, Mr_Spock! Commented Jan 28, 2014 at 21:03
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    I don't think use of the phrase in a particular context is necessary here since the idiom is widely used and extremely straight-forward. In fact, I don't see how it can be misinterpreted. Essentially: "take from one resource to provide for another." It doesn't have to entail stealing per se.
    – Mr_Spock
    Commented Jan 28, 2014 at 21:19
  • It means to solve a problem temporarily by creating a new problem (in the example of Peter and Paul, paying off a loan by borrowing from someone else). Commented Jan 28, 2014 at 22:07
  • @FumbleFingers I think the spoil the ship ... maxim is more akin to for want of a nail ... where a minor expenditure earleir would forestall a greater expenditure later. Peter and Paul is just a shell game moving the same debt around.
    – bib
    Commented Jan 28, 2014 at 22:42

7 Answers 7


From googling I see, from China, "dismantle the West wall to repair the East wall".


Trying to cover yourself with a short sheet.


"Cutting off your nose to spite your face" is similar, but not exactly analogous.

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    "To cut of your nose to spite your face" often suggests malice, vindictiveness, or petulance by the actor. Robbing Peter to pay Paul does not have that connotation. It means trying to shift benefits to cover bases in an inefficient and probably short-term manner.
    – user167084
    Commented Mar 29, 2016 at 13:02

Perhaps shell game

A fraud or deception perpetrated by shifting conspicuous things to hide something else.

The phrase is based on a street scam, also called thimblerig

The term is often used for dishonest dealings in which the money/asset/payoff is constantly being shifted to avoid actual delivery of a payoff. Many ponzi schemes use this type of shuffling short-term payments

a fraudulent investment operation that pays quick returns to initial contributors using money from subsequent contributors rather than profit


Personal experience is all I can offer to this discussion. Most people have engaged in this practice when we use too little resources ( usually money),and juggle it so that enough debts are satisfied for the near term. If it's true that over 3/4 of the us public lives paycheck to paycheck, then we Americans might be considered experts at this practice. Not a distinction that we should take pride in. rk


It seems to me that this is "making [it] someone else's problem," or "passing the buck." In the case of the idiom you are making it Peter's problem (or passing the buck to Peter, if you prefer).

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    Actually, the phrase has the opposite meaning. Peter and Paul here refer to the Christian apostles, generally thought of as a team moreso than as individuals. So if you rob Peter to give to Paul, you haven't really accomplished anything, not even passing the buck. The Peter/Paul team is neither better nor worse than before. Another interpretation is that you're trying to do something righteous ("paying Paul") but you've committed a sin ("robbing Peter") to do it. So regardless of Peter/Paul's relationship, in the end you're not doing anything positive for yourself either.
    – dg99
    Commented Jan 28, 2014 at 23:49
  • @dg99, I think that this is more of a subjective thing. When I suggested it, the proverbial buck was your debt to Paul, which you passed to peter by stealing from him.
    – KnightOfNi
    Commented Jan 29, 2014 at 2:41
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    @dg99 - Peter and Paul refer to cathedrals in England, and the expression comes from the fact that a body (I don't recall whose) entombed at St Peter's was disinterred and re-entombed at St Paul's, because the backers of St Paul's felt they "deserved it" more.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Dec 31, 2015 at 20:13

Steal from the rich to give to the poor.

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