Trying to turn mutton into lamb

Today’s idiom involves etiquette which, in the south, is gospel. Our commandments not only include the big ten, but a litany of others ranging from using the right fork to sending thank you notes. There are certain things you do … and certain things you just don’t do.


No matter if the rule of etiquette is a hundred years old. No matter if “times have changed.” No matter if you lived in the north (or the east or the west) and came back.

A big part of etiquette is a sense about what is proper, decorous, ladylike. What one wears is a big part of that. Dress inappropriately, and, well…people will talk, and probably not say nice things, as we discussed the other day.

Sometimes we try to be encouraging and hopeful. Say the person is a little rough around the edges but appears to have at least tried hard. We’ll give you some props for effort. Someone might say, “Well, he wore his cleanest overhauls to church on Sunday and tried to use some hair grease, but you know what they say — you can’t turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse.”

But if you should have known better, Katie bar the door.*

Now let me digress a minute to wedding etiquette.

Traditionally in the south, we don’t have a problem with people getting married multiple times, but a second, third, or fourth wedding is usually a modest affair with close friends and family. And as the blushing bride is usually more advanced in years and, ostensibly, has been around the block a time or two if you know what I mean, wearing white is usually frowned upon. An ecru, cream, light pink, or light blue is usually the appropriate choice. And she should certainly never wear a veil, the true symbol of virginity.

Back to today’s saying.

I once heard tell of a gal who was pushing 50 and headed to the church for the third time. The big day was a fancy affair and everyone was invited. When the organist hit the first strains of “Here Comes the Bride,” here she came, down the aisle in head-to-toe white, long dress, long veil, long gloves — the whole nine yards.

She should have known better.

I later overheard two women talking about the bride and her faux pas. One said to the other, “She was just trying to turn mutton into lamb!” Her friend gave a knowing nod of agreement, and with that they were gone.

Sometimes there is an idiom just cuts right to the heart of the matter, and today’s is just that zinger.

*Curious about the origin of “Katie bar the door?” Read that interesting story here.

3 thoughts on “Trying to turn mutton into lamb

  1. “Mutton dressed like lamb” is one of my favorite sayings. My mom could (and often did) cut a woman’s outfit dead when she hissed out that judgment and I found myself repeating it during Project Runway last night. I guess it shows that fashions change but zingers are forever.

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