pay the piper

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danielxu85

Senior Member
Mandarin Chinese
I heard a say:"he who pays the piper calls the tune", which means the person who provides the money for sth should control how it is spent. Consequently, I assume that "pay the piper" means to "have the final say". However, I find that some people say it means "to accept the pleasent result".

I am quite confused. Which interpretation would be right, or are they both wrong?
 
  • coiffe

    Senior Member
    USA
    American English
    Well, I think it's mostly literal. If you pay the cost of something, then you're king and whatever you want, is what will be arranged.
     

    danielxu85

    Senior Member
    Mandarin Chinese
    Hi, coiffe. So you mean that "pay the piper" means "you have the final say", but does not mean "to accept the unpleasant result of your own action"?
     

    hly2004

    Banned
    chinese
    http://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/He+who+pays+the+piper+calls+the+tune

    He who pays the piper calls the tune.Prov. If you are paying for someone's services, you can dictate exactly what you want that person to do. When Mrs. Dalton told the artist what she wanted her portrait to look like, the artist cringed to think that anyone could have such bad taste. Still, he who pays the piper calls the tune, and Mrs. Dalton got what she wanted.
    He who pays the piper calls the tune.something that you say which means that the person who provides the money for something can decide how it should be done You may not agree with Mr Brown but he funded this venture, and he who pays the piper calls the tune.
     
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    coiffe

    Senior Member
    USA
    American English
    Hi, coiffe. So you mean that "pay the piper" means "you have the final say", but does not mean "to accept the unpleasant result of your own action"?
    It can mean both. I was answering your first instance of "He who pays the piper calls the tune." But you're right, it can also mean, if I may paraphrase you, "He who calls the tune pays the piper."
     

    danielxu85

    Senior Member
    Mandarin Chinese
    Thanks again, coiffe. I am not sure, how could you decide which one of the two meaning swould be applied to the context, if the phrase appears?
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    I really can't see how this saying relates to "the pleasant result" (post #1) or "the unpleasant result" (post #3) of your own action. It seems that some other saying/proverb is getting mixed in.

    Can you give us an example where this has been used in relation to the consequences of the tune-caller's decision?
     

    danielxu85

    Senior Member
    Mandarin Chinese
    Here are two examples. Are they being used properly?
    After fooling around for most of the semester, now he has to pay the piper and study over vacation.
    If you don't charge enough for your work, at some point you will have to pay the piper.

     

    lizzeymac

    Senior Member
    English - USA
    Hi -

    If I am paying the piper to play music, I am entitled to pick which songs he will play -
    this is "He who pays the piper calls the tune"
    If I have the power/money I decide what will happen.


    If I ask the piper to play a song & he plays it for me & all of my friends are also listening to the music, only I owe the piper money for his services.
    this is " he who calls the tune pays the piper"
    If I take action (ask the piper to play) I am responsible for paying him.

    I hope this helps -
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    There are two distinct proverbs involved here.
    (1) He who pays the piper calls the tune.
    Meaning as described earlier - the person who has paid for something has the right to determine how it should be done.

    (2) They that dance must pay the fiddler.
    Meaning that sooner or later you have to face the consequences of your actions. This is much older, and is noted in my Dictionary of Proverbs as predominantly found in US use.

    As there is no Proverb Regulation Authority, you are at liberty to mix these at will - perhaps it depends whether you prefer to dance to a fiddler or a piper :)
     

    winklepicker

    Senior Member
    English (UK)
    Here are two examples. Are they being used properly?
    After fooling around for most of the semester, now he has to pay the piper and study over vacation.
    If you don't charge enough for your work, at some point you will have to pay the piper.
    No: to my mind these do not make sense.

    Lizzeymac's If I am paying the piper to play music, I am entitled to pick which songs he will play - this is "He who pays the piper calls the tune" is a perfect explanation - and indeed the only one I would recognise.

    I've got a feeling you're confusing piper and price:

    After fooling around for most of the semester, now he has to pay the price and study over vacation.
    If you don't charge enough for your work, at some point you will have to pay the price.
     

    hly2004

    Banned
    chinese
    pay the piper = pay the money
    call the tune =have the say

    One who pays the piper calls the tune
    One who pays the money has the say
    :)
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    It is very clear from looking around references to "pay the piper" that this phrase is used in relation to both of the proverbs I quoted. As coiffe said, you can tell which applies from the context.

    HERE is a short article that addresses this issue very clearly, concluding with:
    It’s interesting that two phrases with the same archaic base—who would describe a musician as a “piper” these days?—should be so different.
    The earliest references are to pay the piper in the sense of face the consequences:
    1681 ... After all this Dance he has led the Nation, he must at last come to pay the Piper himself.
    Somewhat later comes the first reference to the calling of the tune:
    1895 ... Londoners had paid the piper, and should choose the tune.
    OED
     

    cuchuflete

    Senior Member
    EEUU-inglés
    No: to my mind these do not make sense.


    After fooling around for most of the semester, now he has to pay the price and study over vacation.
    If you don't charge enough for your work, at some point you will have to pay the price.
    The first one makes perfect sense to those accustomed to this usage, perhaps much more common in AE. As Panj has noted, paying the piper refers to incurring consequences. The first sentence
    reflects a common AE usage of paying the price ≈ paying the piper. The second sentence tries to do that as well, but it is a little strained.
     
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