an idiom for when you do nothing to help someone in trouble


Senior Member
Hi all, in English, are there idioms, or popular/common phrases that would be used to describe the action of not doing anything to help someone in trouble (e.g. being bullied, being laughed at for having done something embarrassing, etc.), or even deriving pleasure from seeing the person suffer?

Many thanks! :)
  • suzi br

    Senior Member
    English / England
    I can't think of much, I suppose it depends on the context, it might be indifference

    I think we are so averse to seeing ourselves in this way that we maybe struggle to name it. We have to pinch a word from the Germans to use for "deriving pleasure from the misfortune of others":
    schadenfreude (that is a noun).


    Sixties Mod
    English UK Southern Standard English
    We do use a word borrowed from German - Schadenfreude - to describe deriving pleasure from somebody's misfortune, but it generally denotes that the misfortune was self-inflicted. I don't think it would fit the context of someone being bullied very well (unless the person was themselves a bully ;)).

    [cross-posted with suzi]


    Senior Member
    British English (Sussex)
    We can talk about people who just "stand by" and let things like bullying happen. These people are sometimes referred to as "bystanders", but of course the meaning of "bystanders" is general and not specific to such situations.


    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    We get reports in newspapers sometimes over here about when it is appropriate to intervene in a situation, and quite often the people who choose not to are described as 'minding their own business' or being apathetic. I realise that 'minding one's own business' is used a bit differently and is contrasted to intervening as opposed to interfering, but it is sometimes used in this way.

    See, for example, this article:
    MINDING YOUR OWN BUSINESS seems to be an action held in high esteem. It is seen as a good trait – staying out of conflict, not causing trouble: with no involvement comes no controversy. Furthermore, as well as socially acceptable it seems to have become socially expected. If you don’t ‘mind your own business’ you can be labelled as nosy, self-righteous, holier-than-thou. Is this social caution, however, really something to be idealised? ...
    The Dangers of Minding Your Own Business


    Senior Member
    English - Southern England
    "Turn a blind eye (to something)" is the only idiom that I can think of.
    eye 28.
    • turn a blind eye to, close one's eyes to ⇒ to pretend not to notice or ignore deliberately


    New Member
    Italian - Italy
    turn a blind eye to... can be used to mean that you are doing the other person a favour by overlooking something wrong they've done.

    If you are looking for something negative only, you will need some idiom which means "to rejoice in someone's sorrow" which is the sheer translation of the Italian saying <--->.

    < Use only English in the English forum, please. Cagey >
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