The idiom like Caesar's wife is mentioned in the book 1100 words you need to know (Murray Bromberg and Melvin Gordon, 4th edition), and used in the following sentence as an example:

Mrs. Drake would have to be like Caesar's wife so that no tinge of scandal would embarrass her husband, our new mayor. (page 134)

I'd like to know if such idioms that are verbally suited for one particular gender can be acceptably used for the opposite sex as well. To my non-native way of thinking, and considering the definition of idiom (i.e. an expression in the usage of a language that is peculiar to itself in having a meaning that cannot be derived from the conjoined meanings of its elements - Merriam Webster's- 11th edition), the opposite-sex usage sounds non-problematic as long as an idiom- and not a proverb- is used. Any ideas, please?

1 Answer 1


There is no problem with referring to anyone of either sex as "like" anyone of the opposite sex. It's no different from, "He's a lot like her." Omitting the "like" is a bit more complicated. Referring to Republican criticisms of President Obama, Thomas Friedman once wrote, "He's a Pollyanna." This is rather common. In the Financial Times, you can find "He's a Cassandra." So it can be done, and often is. In many cases, though, you will see a gender added to a metaphor, as in On Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2012, author and scholar Martha Ackmann, Ph.D., presents an inspiring story of baseball’s “female Jackie Robinson” at Cabrini College. In such a case, baseball had a real Jackie Robinson and so adding the gender is necessary. In other cases, it just adds clarity to specify the gender ("a female George Washington" gets many hits on Google). This is all undoubtedly a matter of common usage and the context of the point you want to make.

  • Thank you for your detailed answer. The a before Caesar was a typo on my part, by the way.
    – Itsme
    Oct 22, 2015 at 21:29

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