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pre•tense(prɪˈtɛns, ˈpri tɛns)
(See also HYPOCRISY.)
ass in a lion’s skin A pretender; a fool posing as a sage. The allusion is to the fable of an ass that donned a lion’s skin in an attempt to masquerade as the noble beast, but betrayed itself by its braying.
beware of Greeks bearing gifts Distrust the kindnesses of known enemies; suspect an ulterior motive when adversaries act as benefactors. This warning to look for guile lest one be made the victim of treachery is a variation on the words of Laocoön in Book II of Virgil’s Aeneid:
Whatever it is, I fear Greeks even when they bring gifts.
The lines were spoken in reference to the so-called Trojan horse, left outside the gates of Troy supposedly as a gift or peace-offering from the Greeks, with whom Troy was at war. Laocoön’s advice went unheeded, however, and the horse was brought inside the city gates; the Greeks hidden therein thus successfully sacked Troy and razed it to the ground.
four-flusher A bluffer; a pretender; a deadbeat, particularly one who pretends to have money but sponges or borrows from others. This expression derives from the card game of poker in which a flush is a hand (set of five cards) with all cards of the same suit. A four-flush is a hand with four cards of one suit and one card of another suit—worthless in poker. A good bluffer, particularly one who is poker-faced, upon finding himself with a four-flush, might bet in such a way as to make the other players think he is holding a five-card flush—almost a certain winner. Since this kind of bluffing requires heavy betting and involves a substantial risk, many a four-flusher has overextended himself and been unable to cover his losses. Thus, the expression was extended from its poker reference to its current, more general application.
So, perhaps, was a four-flushing holdup man named Gunplay Maxwell. (Wallace Stegner, Mormon Country, 1942)
fox’s sleep Pretended indifference to what is going on; noticing or observing a person, situation, or event without seeming to do so. This expression refers to the belief that foxes sleep with one eye open. Although this is not true in the literal sense, foxes and many other animals seem to remain on a “stand-by alert” when they sleep, ready for action and totally awake on a moment’s notice. A related expression is sleep with one eye open.
iron hand in a velvet glove Tyranny, harshness, or inflexibility hidden under a soft, gentle exterior. At least one source has attributed this expression, in use since about 1850, to Napoleon. One of the several variations of the expression appeared in The Victorian Hansard (January, 1876):
They [the Government] have dealt with the Opposition with a velvet glove; but the iron hand is beneath, and they shall feel it.
look as if butter wouldn’t melt in one’s mouth Used contemptuously to describe a person of deceptively modest appearance, a goody-goody. The implication is always that the person’s true nature is something quite different from what it seems. Hugh Latimer uses the expression, which dates from the early 1500s, in his Seven Sermons Made Upon The Lord’s Prayer (1552):
These fellows … can speak so finely, that a man would think butter should scant melt in their mouths.
method in one’s madness A reason, plan, or orderliness that is obscured by a person’s apparent or feigned insanity or stupidity. This expression developed from a line in Shakespeare’s Hamlet:
Though this be madness, yet there is method in ’t. (II, ii)
It has enjoyed widespread popular usage since the 17th century.
He may be mad, but there’s method in his madness. There nearly always is method in madness. It’s what drives men mad being methodical. (Gilbert K. Chesterton, The Man Who Knew Too Much, 1922)
paper tiger See INEFFECTUALLY.
play possum To deceive or dissemble; to sham illness or death. This expression alludes to the opossum’s defense mechanism of feigning death to ward off predators. In contemporary usage, the common phrase often suggests the feigning of ignorance.
By last week, in the Senate investigation of Washington five-percenters, it became plain that John had been playing possum the whole time. (Time, September, 1949)
Quaker guns Empty threats; harmless barbs; all bark and no bite. This expression comes from the former use of counterfeit guns, simulated to bluff the enemy into thinking that a ship or fort was well-fortified. Such were described as “Quaker” owing to that sect’s doctrine of nonviolence. This U.S. expression is rarely heard today.
“He’s like a Quaker gun,” said Haxall—“piles of appearance, but no damage done.” (Ella L. Dorsey, Midshipman Bob, 1888)
ringer A person or thing entered in a contest under false pretenses; a person or thing bearing an uncanny resemblance to another. The expression’s first sense usually implies the misrepresentation of the contender’s identity or potential. Although this American term finds its principal use in the horse-racing world, it may be applied to human competitors as well.
As a ringer in the Sadie Hawkins race, she was last heard of pursuing a panic-stricken Dogpatcher. (Newsweek, November, 1947)
The phrase’s meaning of two nearly identical persons or things, most often expressed as dead ringer, is quite common in the United States.
I saw once … an outlaw … who was a dead ringer for him. (O. Henry, Options, 1909)
sail under false colors To pretend or appear to be what one is not; to put up a false front or façade; to act or speak hypocritically. In the days when buccaneers plundered on the open seas, it was common practice for a pirate ship to hoist the colors (flag) of a potential victim’s ally in order to sneak up on the ship without arousing suspicion. At the last moment, the pirates would lower the false colors, “show their true colors,” the Jolly Roger, and attack. This expression and its variations are now used figuratively.
Our female candidate … will no longer hang out false colors. (Sir Richard Steele, The Spectator, 1711)
sly-boots See SHREWDNESS.
wolf in sheep’s clothing One who hides his true evil intentions or character behind a façade of friendship; a hypocrite or deceiver. This expression derives from an Aesop fable in which a wolf, wrapped in the fleece of a sheep, enters the fold and proceeds to devour the unsuspecting lambs. A wolf in a lamb’s skin, in use as early as 1460, seems to be an older variation of the current phrase, which did not appear until 1591. A well-known Biblical passage has served to increase the phrase’s familiarity:
Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravening wolves. (Matthew 7:15)
|Noun||1.||pretense - the act of giving a false appearance; "his conformity was only pretending"|
show, appearance - pretending that something is the case in order to make a good impression; "they try to keep up appearances"; "that ceremony is just for show"
masquerade - making a false outward show; "a beggar's masquerade of wealth"
|2.||pretense - pretending with intention to deceive|
bluff - pretense that your position is stronger than it really is; "his bluff succeeded in getting him accepted"
pretext, stalking-horse - something serving to conceal plans; a fictitious reason that is concocted in order to conceal the real reason
|3.||pretense - imaginative intellectual play|
|4.||pretense - a false or unsupportable quality|
artificiality - the quality of being produced by people and not occurring naturally
|5.||pretense - an artful or simulated semblance; "under the guise of friendship he betrayed them"|