If you lie down with dogs... (Idiom)

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James Brandon

Senior Member
English + French - UK
I have heard the part-expression "if you lie down with dogs..." and would like to check the exact wording as well as the exact meaning. The latter, however, does appear fairly obvious. A quick search on the internet gives me various wordings:

-If you lie down with dogs => you wake up with fleas
=>you'll come up with fleas
=>you get fleas
=>you get up with fleas

I wonder what formulation would be correct, unless it is one of those idiomatic expressions that do not have a rigid proverb-like structure and several versions are heard/used.

Is it mostly an American expression? I can't say I often hear it here in England.

The meaning appears to be of the general-warning kind: 'If you do dangerous or silly things, you will have to suffer the consequences and don't be surprised if that happens to you.' (One quote on the web equated 'dogs' with an unsavoury male partner for a woman, who subsequently wakes up not with 'fleas' but with 'a baby'...)
 
  • nycphotography

    Senior Member
    American English
    -If you lie down with dogs => you end up with fleas
    -If you lie down with dogs => you wind up with fleas

    James Brandon said:
    (One quote on the web equated 'dogs' with an unsavoury male partner for a woman, who subsequently wakes up not with 'fleas' but with 'a baby'...)
    Or crabs.
     

    river

    Senior Member
    U.S. English
    If you lie down with dogs, you'll... stink in the morning.
    The original proverb: If you lie down with dogs, you'll rise with fleas.
     

    James Brandon

    Senior Member
    English + French - UK
    River,
    Thanks for this one and the others I posted up on Friday. It is a bit odd, still, that the version you suggest (which does seem the best that one could come up with) did not come up when I did a quick search on Google - presumably another case of a commonly used phrase or expression being formulated wrongly by many, if not the majority.
     

    foxfirebrand

    Senior Member
    Southern AE greatly modified by a 1st-generation Scottish-American mother, and growing up abroad.
    "Lie down with dogs and rise with fleas" is the way I learned it too. It's definitely BE in origin, so the "get up" and "end up" substitutions were probably made during the expression's migration into AE.

    It's about running with the wrong crowd, and the damage such associations can cause to your own reputation, even if you only day-trip in their company and don't ride with them when they're out causing trouble in the dark end of town. Guilt by association.

    Back in the late 50s when the baby boom was adolescing and parents were worried about kids getting into "juvenile delinquent" gangs, that expression was made use of by parents.
    .
     

    James Brandon

    Senior Member
    English + French - UK
    Foxfirebrand,

    You explain the connotations and origin very well, but I have noticed that you say or imply that "get up with" could be American usage for what would be a British expression (and I must say I have probably heard it once or twice so far in my life...), yet Maxiogee indicates that, in Ireland, they do not use "rise". But that's a minor point, and there would be national/regional variations.
     

    foxfirebrand

    Senior Member
    Southern AE greatly modified by a 1st-generation Scottish-American mother, and growing up abroad.
    James Brandon said:
    I have noticed that you say or imply that "get up with" could be American usage for what would be a British expression (and I must say I have probably heard it once or twice so far in my life...), yet Maxiogee indicates that, in Ireland, they do not use "rise". But that's a minor point, and there would be national/regional variations.
    Well, the original expression is not only BE, it's also fairly old-- I'm sure hard data on its origin is available for the etymological truffle-hogs among us, but I detect a kind of 18th-century Samuel-Johnson coffee-house aroma to it. In evolving into AE, "rise" got half lost in the shuffle. I wouldn't theorize whether the same thing happened as contemporary BE evolved as well-- it would seem from the posts that that's what happened. I didn't mean to draw an exclusionary line in such general terms.

    The point is, we have fleas-- now how to get rid of the damn things!
    .
     

    Kelly B

    Senior Member
    USA English
    mikey028 said:
    ...you'll end up with fleas. I do not know about you, but that's the American way to do it right.
    I disagree.

    To me, this is where googlefight actually comes in handy- you certainly cannot trust google to prove that a given usage is right or wrong, but you can use it to figure out which version is more frequently used.
    "end up with fleas": 422 results
    "get up with fleas": 20,700 results.
     

    James Brandon

    Senior Member
    English + French - UK
    Yes, I agree that Google (and other search engines) can help you establish how frequent an expression may be. It does not prove that it is, in the strict sense of the word, "correct" or "accurate", but it is a good gauge of usage.

    If you do a search with "If you lie down with dogs, you will rise with fleas" - reputedly the correct form of the expression - you only get 8 entries.

    One of them attributes the saying to an American politician (link inaccessible to get full quote) and the other states that it is...an Irish proverb. See link below.

    The reason "rise" (for "get up") is not as frequently used could simply be that it is more literary, so to speak, than "get up", and people re-phrased the saying over time in order to make it easier to memorize, using a more common phrasal verb, as it were.

    http://www.google.co.uk/search?as_q=&num=10&hl=en&btnG=Google+Search&as_epq=if+you+lie+down+with+dogs+you+will+rise+with+fleas&as_oq=&as_eq=&lr=&as_ft=i&as_filetype=&as_qdr=all&as_occt=any&as_dt=i&as_sitesearch=&as_rights=&safe=images
     

    quilks

    Member
    English, UK
    I would say "Lie down with dogs, wake up with fleas" and I do hear that in the UK fairly often, usually in the context of sexual promiscuity.

    There have been recent versions, like this lyric from a Sean Paul song "Dem hangout wid too much dogs and catch fleas" - anybody care to correct that English?
     

    James Brandon

    Senior Member
    English + French - UK
    Mikey,
    Apparently, originally, the expression was phrased with 'rise' and neither 'get' nor 'end', if you read the whole Thread and also check the Google entry I mentioned. I am not sure Google is intrinsically 'lazy' - it is just that the use of (everyday language) may not always be accurate or sophisticated... It is interesting that Quilks indicates being very familiar with the expression.
     

    quilks

    Member
    English, UK
    It appears the proverb has changed over time and seemingly also distance.

    The meaning seems to have changed slightly too - whereas initially it suggested that one might appropriate the bad behaviour by mixing in the wrong circles, nowadays the phrase is more commonly used to imply that in sleeping around one might catch something undesirable!

    It is commonly used here - maybe its a Northern thing?!
     

    James Brandon

    Senior Member
    English + French - UK
    Quilks,

    I must say I have heard it once or twice down here in London/SE England (hence my initial posting), but I cannot say that it is common among people I know, work with, etc. This is not to say that it is not commonly used by some but I would not say it's the kind of saying you hear once a week or even once a month! Maybe it is indeed more of a Northern English thing.

    It would be interesting to hear from other British people (and other native speakers for that matter) to see how common it is, if only out of curiosity... It is also interesting that you quote an extract from a rap song (from the wording, I would suppose it relates to rap music).
     

    James Brandon

    Senior Member
    English + French - UK
    Interesting.

    I have reproduced the beginning of that page below:-


    An assertion that human failings, such as dishonesty and foolishness, are contagious. Cf. L. qui cum canibus concumbunt cum pulicibus surgent, they who lie with dogs will rise with fleas.
    Chi va dormir con i cani, si leua con i pulici. He that goeth to bedde wyth Dogges, aryseth with fleas.
    [1573 J. Sanforde Garden of Pleasure 103V]
    Hee that lies with the dogs, riseth with fleas.
    [1640 G. Herbert Outlandish Proverbs no. 343]
    The original phrase is Latin, according to the entry you quote.

    I would not have thought it went back to the 17th century in English!...

    Thanks
     

    James Brandon

    Senior Member
    English + French - UK
    The question of the verb used (to get up, to wake up, etc. with fleas) was discussed extensively. There was not any conclusive outcome to the exchange of views, however, as I recall.

    The origin of the phrase (in English) would point towards the use of "to rise": "He who lies [down] with [the] dogs, rises with fleas".

    More modern versions of the phrase - clearly still known and in use - may have opted for another verb (such as 'wake up').
     
    Last edited:

    James Brandon

    Senior Member
    English + French - UK
    It has only been around since 1640. :) Ewie, who has not been around that long, to the best of my knowledge, says he uses it. I cannot say I hear it very often and I never use it. But several contributors said they knew or used the phrase, if you read back the various posts.

    PS Since one can re-write history, here, I have edited my previous post, however, and removed "very much in use": one gets carried away, occasionally.
     
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