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In the Fable of "The Boy who cried Wolf", the townsfolk end up not believing the boy when there actually is a wolf because he lied about there being a wolf so many times, leading to the flock of sheep getting eaten.

Now, suppose the townsfolk stopped believing him way earlier, and the boy stopped crying wolf, even if there really is a wolf, because he knows the townfolk won't believe him anyway.

Is there a term/proverb that can be used to describe this boy? Maybe something from a different fable or a real world event?

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  • The proverb is so well known that it has its own phrasal verb: "to cry wolf". Thus the noun phrase "a crier of wolf" and, hence, he would become known as a "reformed crier of wolf".
    – Greybeard
    Apr 7, 2022 at 12:17
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    The 'crying wolf' parable is about false positives. the boy is telling lies to get a reaction from people, so eventually they learn to not trust him even when he's telling the truth. The nearest situation to that is Cassandra who always told the truth (about predicting bad things would happen), but no one believed her. So you may be able to rejigger your writing slightly to use 'Cassandra'.
    – Mitch
    Apr 7, 2022 at 13:24
  • What's the moral of the story you're looking for? Also check to see if this helps: When someone ruins all the good they have ever done!
    – Laurel
    Apr 7, 2022 at 13:36
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    I think @Mitch has nailed it. In Anglophone culture, references to Cassandra (and the derived adjective Cassandrian) normally allude to speaking the truth, but not being believed. It's a minor detail that the boy crying wolf directly caused his own "lack of credibility" by lying before, whereas Cassandra was afflicted by Apollo's curse. However they got into that position, their current circumstances are that nobody believes either of them. Apr 7, 2022 at 15:57
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    For word/phrase requests, it is helpful to have a sentence that demonstrates how you would like use the word or phrase.
    – ColleenV
    Apr 7, 2022 at 16:24

4 Answers 4

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you've made your bed, now lie in it

said to someone who must accept the unpleasant results of something they have done (Cambridge Dictionary)

The unpleasant results of repeatedly “crying wolf” gratuitously, is to be labelled an instigator and/or a liar.

  • Even though the boy stopped crying wolf by then it was too late, he'd made his bed and he had to lie in it

The proverb is attributed to a phrase written by the 15th century French writer Guillaume Flamant in his book “La Vie et Passion de Monseigneur Sainct Didier, Martir et Evesque de Lengres” published in 1482.

'Comme on faict son lict, on le treuve' (As one makes one's bed, so one finds it).

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  • I'm note sure whether by "a term/proverb that can be used to describe this boy" the OP means explain the boy's state of mind (why he has given up) or judge the boy.
    – DjinTonic
    Apr 7, 2022 at 19:00
  • @DjinTonic the idiom doesn't describe the boy but fits the description of the situation. Someone who used to lie but was believed compared to the same individual now telling the truth but no longer believed. The boy's reputation soiled because once you've lost people's trust it is rare to earn it back.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Apr 13, 2022 at 6:05
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If my interpretation of your senario is correct, when the townsfolk [finally] understood/realized what the wolf-crying boy was up to (just trying to get attention/reactions), they stopped reacting to/believing the boy and his cries, and the boy in turn "[finally] got the message" (that the townsfolk no longer believed him and would no longer react to his cries).

With this message in mind, the boy felt that continuing to cry wolf was useless and stopped crying wolf altogether, even when there was a wolf to cry about.

get the message idiom

Definition of get the message

informal:

to understand something that is not being said directly

When they didn't return my phone calls, I finally got the message.

from: Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 4 Sep. 2022

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A Non-credible witness In the classic case the boy is no longer a credible witness. He is justifiably if tragically ignored after too many trips to the well. Hungry wolves and other professionals have given some details on descriptions and remedies below.

https://legal-info.lawyers.com/criminal/criminal-law-basics/a-credible-witness-is-trustworthy-and-believable.html

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Is there a phrase for "the boy who cried wolf" when the boy stops crying wolf because the townsfolk won't believe him anyway?

Normally, this would be "the reformed* boy who cried wolf." But reformed implies that he has forsaken all of his bad ways because he realises they were wrong.

In your example, the boy has not reformed as you say:

the boy felt that continuing to cry wolf was useless and stopped crying wolf altogether,

This indicates that he still wished to be annoying (he is therefore not "reformed") but realised that crying wolf would not annoy anyone.

You therefore could describe him as "the wiser** boy who cried wolf" as he is now in possession of a useful piece of information but is not prohibited from being annoying in new ways.

*OED:

3. Of a person. 3.a. Improved in character or conduct; spec. having relinquished an immoral, criminal, or self-destructive lifestyle.

1909 ‘Well, Anne's methods seem to have worked fairly well with Davy,’ said Mrs. Lynde smilingly. ‘He's a reformed character.’ L. M. Montgomery, Anne of Avonlea xxvi. 306

**wise: 3.a. Having knowledge, well-informed; - [hence comparative "wiser" - Having more knowledge, better-informed

2024 "I did not understand your explanation, so I am not any wiser." (Greybeard EL&U)

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