The memoir opens with a reminiscence about Locke’s time at Oxford where, according to Tyrrell, Locke “did not study at all; he was lazy and nonchalant, and he amused himself with trifling works of wit”. Locke is remembered as a man who “prided himself on being original, and he scorned that which he was unable to pass off as his own”.

Source: Guardian

Does "unable to pass off" mean "unable to falsely represent (that is, unable to take it as his own)"?

  • 4
    Please look up the phrasal verb: to pass off, as in to pass something off.
    – Lambie
    Jun 29, 2021 at 15:16

1 Answer 1


I was surprised that this specific use of the phrase is not found in Cambridge dictionary. It only defines "pass off" as meaning 'to happen', which is not the meaning here.

You would need to look up "pass someone/something off as something" in order to get the meaning.

Basically, it means to try and make others believe something is something other than it is. In your example, it seems that 'Locke' tried to be 'original' with his witticisms, but he evidently was happy to pretend that the words of others were actually his own. However, he if he thought that he could not successfully "pass off" the words of others as his own (pretend that they were his original words) he would not attempt to do so.

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