If you’ve been a reader of mine for any length of time, you’ve probably realized that I like the intricacies and creativity of our language. I like puns (much to the chagrin of those around me), idioms, clichés, a witty turn of a phrase, and highly descriptive prose.
Admittedly, I’m just a piker when it comes to most of those skills, but I appreciate them when I come across the myriad of examples in excellent literature scribed by skilled wordsmiths.
One such idiom that has been rolling around in my head is the phrase “dyed-in-the-wool.”
Now I know what it means. I’ve heard it used in conversation since I was a little kid and have employed it myself upon occasion. Sometimes “dyed-in-the-wool” is used as a simple descriptor, as in “He’s a dyed-in-the-wool golfer!” Sometimes it’s used to attack people, “He’s a dyed-in-the-wool alt-right, white supremacist, misogynist, homophobe!” Okay, that’s an extreme example (though not uncommon in our day, sadly). You can usually determine if “dyed-in-the-wool” is an attack by the tone of voice used rather than by just the words themselves.
Try this. Say, “He’s a dyed-in-the-wool politician” as if you’re describing your favorite Senator. Listen to what it sounds like to you. Well, that guy must be a pretty good Senator, by golly!
Now say the same thing, “He’s a dyed-in-the-wool politician” as if you’re describing the slimiest, smarmiest, bottom-feeding lowlife of a political hack whose only goal is personal power and the money he can make off the taxpayer’s dime.
Go ahead. I’ll wait.
Hear what I mean?
Tone of voice is everything!
But what does it mean, this “dyed-1n-the-wool” idiom? I’m glad you asked because I went to work on it. I searched dictionaries, etymology (the study of the history of words) websites and resources, and English language guides. This is what I found.
The earliest recorded usage of the phrase is in 1588 and it became a common cliché in the U.S. by the early 1900s. Great. But where did it come from and what does it mean, O Esteemed Resources?
“Dyed-in-the-wool” literally means “dyed before being woven.” Cool. But I found that it goes even deeper than that (pun intended). According to grammarist.com, “When wool is dyed before being spun into thread (as opposed to after it is spun or woven into fabric), the color is profound and likely to last a very long time.” Thefreedictionary.com idiom page revealed this, “The term…alludes to cloth made from wool that was dyed while raw (before it was spun) instead of being dyed piece by piece. The color, therefore, was “true” throughout, and this concept was transferred to other kinds of genuineness” (italics, writer, and following).
Now that helped me understand how the term is used.
Idiomatically speaking, “dyed-in-the-wool” is usually applied to mean “thorough, uncompromising.” Synonyms include “bred-in-the-bone, chronic, confirmed, habitual, and inveterate.” According to the Cambridge Dictionary, “If someone is dyed-in-the-wool, or has dyed-in-the-wool opinions, they hold those opinions strongly and will not change them.”
Grammarist.com summarizes the phrase neatly, “From this we can infer the metaphorical meaning of the idiom dyed-in-the-wool, which means profoundly, deeply ingrained, or to an extreme degree. It’s usually used in describing a person’s political, cultural, or religious beliefs or to emphasize their commitment to something. ‘Died-in-the-wool’ appears occasionally. Sometimes it’s a pun, but it’s usually just a misspelling.”
And that’s when the light came on!
There are a multitude of references in the Bible to wool. The idea of dyeing or staining something is also a commonly used image.
Our Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus, are described with references to bright white wool. For example, “The Ancient of Days took his seat. His clothing was white like snow, and the hair of his head like whitest wool” (Daniel 7:9) and “…the Son of Man (Jesus), dressed in a robe and with a golden sash wrapped around his chest. The hair of his head was white as wool—white as snow (Revelation 1:13-14). White indicates absolute holiness and purity.
So, when Adam and Eve were formed in the image of God, can we say that they began in the same holy and pure, “white wool” state as the Father who created them? Of course!
Among other things, they were our Heavenly Father’s perfect representatives and clear reflection of Himself in human flesh to the Universe. And being newly created, they were, so to speak, in a “raw wool” state ready to be woven into the fabric of humanity with which the Lord intended to blanket the earth with His righteous dominion.
But that white, raw wool state apparently didn’t last long. Adam and Eve “died-in-the-wool” when they broke God’s rules and their rebellious action indelibly stained them with sin. The colorant of sin became profoundly and deeply ingrained to an extreme degree. This is a foundational truth that has affected the warp and weft of our lives.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with weaving (since we’re talking about wool), warp and weft describe the two directions threads are strung on a loom to weave cloth. The warp is the threads that orient forward (vertical) away from the weaver. The weft is the threads that are woven from side to side (horizontal) into the vertical threads. The alternating process of weaving the weft over and under the warp creates the desired fabric.
If a fabric is dyed after weaving, there’s always the chance the dye won’t penetrate the threads completely as the threads are tightly intertwined against each other. To ensure uniform, long-lasting color, it’s best to make sure the threads are “dyed-in-the-wool” before weaving or better yet, dyed-in-the-wool before even spinning the threads.
Sin has stained humanity. The man and woman are like the two initial threads, the raw wool of humanity, created by God to weave the fabric of humanity. As the Couple reproduced, they were to introduce additional “threads,” children, to be threaded into the tapestry of humanity, creating the grand design of our magnificent Creator and Sustainer.
But sin discolored us from the start. The raw “wool” of humanity was stained with the red of sin, red evoking images of death and decay. The manifold colors of human nature are soaked with revolt so that every strand, every fiber, of our being carries the evidence of our rouge rebellion. Like dyed-in-the-wool fibers, sin’s color “is profound and likely to last a very long time.” The biblical truth is our sin stain will last forever unless something profound changes it!
Furthermore, because rebellion against God was dyed into the fabric of our being, this rebellion is “true throughout.” Since the Fall, every one of us has “dyed,” are warped, and weft for dead. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)
We’re all born as “dyed-in-the-wool” sinners. Paul points this out rather bluntly, “There is no one righteous, not even one. There is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away; all alike have become worthless. There is no one who does what is good, not even one” (Romans 3:10-12, quoting Psalms 14:1–3; 53:1–3, and Ecclesiastes 7:20)
To fix a mis-dyed fabric, the fabric must first be bleached, then redyed. However, because the fibers are woven tightly together, there will always be remnants of the original color in the fibers.
God isn’t content with that.
Here’s a good verse to learn when you feel you’re beyond God’s forgiveness or help. “’Come, let’s settle this,’ says the Lord. ‘Though your sins are scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they are crimson red, they will be like wool’” (Isaiah 1:18). Yup, God alone has the power to take us apart filament by filament and bleach each strand of our being through the cleansing power of Jesus’ sacrifice until we are “wool that is white as snow.” No remnants remain.
How can this red to white, sinner to saved thing happen? Check this out!
“If we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). The red blood of Jesus’ sacrifice bleaches out sin’s stain and restores us to the raw, white wool state humanity started with.
Once we have “died” in the wool, we are “dyed” in the wool, each one of us carrying the pigment of Jesus’ death and life in every fiber of our being. As Paul wrote, “We always carry the death of Jesus in our body, so that the life of Jesus may also be displayed in our body” (2 Corinthians 4:10).
We can now be the person our Heavenly Father intended us to be, re-dyed in the color of His choosing, as in God-given gifts, talents, and purposes to be used for Him, without sin discoloring any of that. Our Father then weaves us together to make up the tapestry of His Kingdom “so that God’s multi-faceted wisdom may now be made known through the church to the rulers and authorities in the heavens” (Ephesians 3:10).
If God’s work has truly been accomplished in us, what was once a “dyed-in-the-wool sinner,” a “bred-in-the-bone, chronic, confirmed, habitual, inveterate, and unchanging” rebel, has become a “died-in-the-wool, bred-in-the-bone, chronic, confirmed, habitual, inveterate, and unchanging” child of God. And if we were such consummate, dyed-in-the-wool rebels to begin with, shouldn’t we now be consummate, dyed-in-the-wool saints for the rest of our lives?
Plus, we have an unimaginable, indescribable, magnificent eternal life now looming before us.
See what I did there?
Isn’t language fun and enlightening?
Pastor Jay Christianson
The Truth Barista, Frothy Thoughts