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Philip drunk to Philip sober

12 Jan 2018

Here in the UK, a major headline this week was that Nigel Farage—formerly of the UK Independence Party, and a principal voice in the Brexit campaign to leave the European Union—had after much deliberation decided that a second EU referendum might be a good idea after all. The reasoning behind Mr Farage’s decision is debatable, and just 24 hours later UKIP appeared to backtrack on his announcement (hey, nothing new there). But on an entirely unrelated note, we were reminded of this bizarre expression, which first cropped up on HH in April 2017:

 

 

To appeal from Philip drunk to Philip sober is a sixteenth century turn of phrase meaning “to urge someone to reconsider an unfavourable decision”. The Philip in question here is not, alas, UK Chancellor Philip Hammond but rather Philip II, the fourth century BC ruler of Macedon and father of Alexander the Great.

 

Fit to bust: Philip II of Macedon (Wikimedia)

 

According to an anecdote told by the Roman historian Valerius Maximus, King Philip was once approached by a Macedonian noblewoman to seek a ruling on some apparent slight or legal matter she had found problematic. Unfortunately for her, the king at the time was in a drunken, petulant, and fairly unsympathetic mood, and ultimately dismissed her case without hearing it out fully. 

 

Disappointed, the woman said that she would appeal the king’s judgment, and when Philip angrily asked to whom she intended to direct her appeal, she explained simply, “to Philip sober”—rather than, it was implied, “Philip drunk”. (Legend has it that she subsequently won her case with the king’s pardon, and was happily vindicated.) 

 

This tale gave rise to the expression above and first found its way into more widespread use in English in the early 1500s. It has been used—albeit rarely—ever since to describe any attempt to have someone reconsider a snap or ill-advised judgment at a later date. 

 

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