The Emperor Has No Clothes is an idiomatic phrase, that comes from a tale by Hans Christian Andersen where a vain emperor is tricked by two swindlers who promise to make him a set of clothes that are invisible to anyone who is unfit to hold their office or is stupid.
In reality, the swindlers are just pretending to weave the clothes, and the emperor ends up walking naked in a parade, unwilling to admit that he cannot see his own clothes.
The phrase has since become an idiom used to describe a situation where someone is pretending to be something they are not, or when something is revealed to be a fraud. It’s a way of pointing out that someone is not as powerful or impressive as they claim to be, or of exposing a lie or deception.
So next time you hear someone say “The Emperor Has No Clothes,” you’ll know that it’s a clever way of calling out someone’s bluff.
The origin of this phrase dates back to the tale of Hans Christian Andersen, titled “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” which was published in 1837, along with The Little Mermaid.
The story tells of an exhibitionistic emperor who is obsessed with clothing and fashion. Two swindlers pull a fraud on him by telling him and his court that they will tailor an outfit that can only be seen by the wise. This results in nobody admitting that the emperor is, in fact, naked, up to the very end of the story, when a boy exclaims that “The Emperor Has No Clothes.”
Due to the large influence of Andersen’s tales, the story became a widely known fable, and this impact has embedded it into of European culture.
Since the publication of the original tale, the phrase has since been used as a symbol of speaking truth to power and has been adapted into various forms of media, including books, films, and even political cartoons. It serves as a powerful reminder that sometimes, it takes a child’s innocent honesty to reveal the truth and bring about change.
It started seeing widespread use in English at the turn of the 20th century, and would appear in more and more media content by the 1950s.
An influential book, published by Jack Herer in 1985, is titled The Emperor Wears No Clothes, debunking several claims about the Cannabis plant, cited in several studies, aiming at legalizing or decriminalizing the plant.
Today, the metaphor is used flexibly, in a wide variety of contexts, however “The Emperor Has No Clothes” is usually aimed at debunking widely accepted myths and deceptions, revealing an uncomfortable truth.
- Medium.com – Parable: The Emperor Has No Clothes
- BookBrowse – Why do we say The Emperor has no clothes?
- Miami Herald – Donald Trump might look like he’s fully clothed, but in reality . . .