Once a Thief, Always a Thief

An American Proverb–Once a Thief, Always a Thief


The informant was caught shoplifting once as a child.  Her mother, after hearing the news, began crying and said, “Once a thief, always a thief!”  The informant says this made her feel extremely guilty, because it implies that she would continue to steal for the rest of her life.

I agree with the informant’s analysis.  Also, this proverb connects to other “once….always” proverbs such as “Once a cheater, always a cheater.”  I think this is a popular structure in American proverbs.  Also, this proverb demonstrates an extreme cultural condemnation of those who steal–because once they steal once, they will always be a thief.


Annotation: This proverb has appeared many times in popular culture, particularly in a shortened version.  “Once a Thief” is the name of two films (one by John Woo and one by Ralph Nelson), both of tell tales of thieves–the logical completion is “Once a Thief, Always a Thief.”  “Once a Thief” is also the title of a novel and a TV series, and the title is so popular that it has a “disambiguation” page on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Once_a_Thief_(disambiguation)