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Paper Tiger Origin

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Mateo in Richmond, Virginia, is curious about a story he heard about the term paper tiger, meaning “something that looks fearsome or ferocious, but is actually flimsy or weak.” It’s not from Tiger, a type of German tank used during World War II, though it’s been said that German counterintelligence agents would intentionally leave behind false documents listing more Tiger tanks than they actually had, hoping to trick Allied forces. In reality, however, paper tiger is a calque from Chinese, where zhǐlǎohǔ (纸老虎) literally means the same thing. Chairman Mao Zedong popularized the phrase in Chinese by using it to disparage opponents, and the English translation paper tiger proved a handy addition to the lexicon. This is part of a complete episode.

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