Let sleeping dogs lie

Example in use: “He looked pretty angry this morning and I was going to ask him if was still angry that I’d been late to work. But then I thought I’d let sleeping dogs lie and didn’t say anything. Why remind him again about my tardiness?”

Meaning: Don’t do anything that is going to cause trouble or don’t bring something up again that was a problem in the past in case it creates more trouble

Possible German equivalent: Schlafende Hunde soll man nicht wecken.

Possible origin: It is possible that this phrase has its roots as far back as the Christian Bible where you are reminded that if you involve yourself in trouble which has nothing to do with you, it is like someone who “takes a dog by the ears,” i.e. you are asking for trouble.

A form of this appears to have entered into English use in the 1300s by Chaucer with the similar expression, “It is nought good a sleepyng hound to wake.” After all, you don’t want to be bitten by a dog which is annoyed that you woke them up, do you?

By the 18th century, the expression was being used in the form we know today and it is well documented that it was a favourite saying of Sir Robert Walpole who was the first British Prime Minister from 1721 to 1742. It is quoted that he used the idiom, “let sleeping dogs lie” in many problem situations ranging from the American Revolution to matters of the Royal Court.

Dogs are used in this idiom due to the fact that in the past, they were used as watchdogs and obviously, if you woke them up due to the fact that you were up to no good, you would definitely be in trouble.

It must be remembered that there are two meanings of the English verb “to lie”. In this case we are talking about dogs lying down on the floor and sleeping and not about dogs who don’t tell the truth.

Lie / laɪ



Welcome again to our weekly series that hopes to go behind the scenes of some rather typical English expressions.