English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

In Malayalam/Indian, there's a saying "Paashaanatthil krimi". It literally translates to

Worm that lives in poison.

It is used while judging people who keep bad company as being bad themselves. It is used to address someone inimically; to say that a person who can survive in poison is probably very poisonous himself.

Birds of a feather flock together means that similar people tend to associate with each other. It is not suitable here.

What can be an equivalent English phrase?

This is purely out of curiosity, and in any event, I don't intend to judge people.

share|improve this question
7  
What is the source language? and the what is the idiom in the source language? – Daniel Jan 31 at 7:54
    
@LightnessRacesinOrbit Touché! But, you know, for academic purposes only. – NVZ Jan 31 at 17:15
    
@NVZ: Hehe​​​​​ – Lightness Races in Orbit Jan 31 at 17:31
4  
@LightnessRacesinOrbit aren't you judging him, his language or his culture right now? – Sebastiaan van den Broek Feb 1 at 5:17
3  
"The bird who goes around with a bat wakes up hanging upside down" in Brazilian Portuguese. Found on a similar SE question. – URB Feb 1 at 5:39
up vote 32 down vote accepted

The equivalent in English would be

If you lie down with dogs, you will get up with fleas

Prov. If you associate with bad people, you will acquire their faults

[The Free Dictionary]

Their usage example fits very well with your context.

Granddaughter: It's not fair. I'm starting to get a bad reputation just because I'm friends with Suzy and she has a bad reputation.

Grandmother: It's only natural. People think that if you lie down with dogs, you will get up with fleas.

share|improve this answer
3  
Minor note, just like "When in Rome" this phrase is sometimes truncated to just the first half. "Well, if you lie down with dogs." – SuperBiasedMan Feb 1 at 11:52

You could consider using He that touches pitch shall be defiled (therewith) which means:

As a person who handles tar gets dirty, so someone who comes into contact with wicked people is liable to be contaminated by them.

[The Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs]

It is close to Man is known by the company he keeps which means a person tends to associate with people who are like him or her.

share|improve this answer
6  
Apparently that's a real proverb, but it sounds really weird, archaic, and/or historical (probably because it is). I mean "defiled", really? Sorry road-pavers, I guess you're "unclean". I couldn't imagine ever using this myself, or hearing it from most of the people I know. Anyway, interesting find, but not very useful. – Peter Cordes Jan 31 at 15:01
    
@PeterCordes According to the source, the proverb first started to be used in 1303. It's pretty old and I don't think it has been broadly used compared with what BiscuitBoy suggested or "Man is known by the company he keeps". Proverbs do sound archaic and they might disappear if people stop using it. But it does have wisdom and that's what a proverb is for. – Rathony Jan 31 at 17:15
    
I'd say this one should stay dead. It seems to encourage thinking along the lines that a person can be "unclean", which if I understand correctly, has led to discrimination for bad reasons, and other things that I don't think should be encouraged. It seems to go beyond saying you should guard your valuables around this person, into the territory of saying they're spiritually contagious. And that just being in the same room as them is a problem. The whole "touches pitch" aspect is weird, too. What's so bad about pitch? Just wash with some solvents... So it doesn't even make sense. – Peter Cordes Feb 1 at 9:40
    
In summary, there are a lot of old bad ideas that we don't want to keep around or encourage anymore. This might be one of them, depending on interpretation, or it might just be something that's no longer a useful way to express the idea because of modern chemistry and cleaning products. – Peter Cordes Feb 1 at 9:42
    
@PeterCordes Nowadays, I don't think pet dogs (in developed world) have fleas. – Rathony Feb 1 at 12:08

There's also "Judged by the company you keep", a common reference to this biblcal proverb.

share|improve this answer
1  
Charles Baudelaire said the opposite: Nobody shall be judged by the company he keeps. Judas had exemplary friends. – Graffito Feb 15 at 9:03

Consider,

If you lie with scorpions, you'd better have a taste for poison. Aleksandr Voinov

-and-

Tell me who you hang out with and I'll tell you who you are (Mexican-American saying)

That's why the first step in treating a person addicted to alcohol or drugs is to counsel them to stop hanging out with so-called "friends" who encouraged their addiction in the first place. "Tell me who you hang out with and I'll tell you who you are" is the way my mom put it. You.Inc

-and-

He who goes with wolves will learn to howl; Live with the wolves and you will learn to howl; Live with wolves and you shall learn to howl; When you are with the wolves you must howl with them. Rec. dist.: U.S., Can. 1st cit. A Dictionary of American Proverbs

He who keeps company/hang around with wolves learns to howl. Mexican-American Saying

Meaning: If you hang around with people who have bad habits, these will rub off on you eventually. A Dictionary of Mexican American Proverbs

-and-

You can't touch tar without getting your hands dirty Before It's News

share|improve this answer
    
Does that have the negative connotations of the original saying, though? – duskwuff Jan 31 at 20:36
    
I think these are not what OP wanted. – URB Feb 1 at 3:45
    
@Mari-LouA No, as I understand it, it means, "if you hang around with bad people (rattlesnakes), the bad will rub off on you," i.e. you will also become a bad person. – Elian Feb 1 at 10:08
    
@Mari-LouA If you got bitten in the neck by a rattlesnake, it's very unlikely you'd get up again. "What was it my grandfather used to say? "Lie down with rattlesnakes, get up with fangs in your neck.'" ;-) tv.com/shows/dynasty/the-cabin-8024 – Elian Feb 1 at 10:59
    
@Mari-LouA Indeed. I just meant to point out the saying of Blake's grandfather doesn't make a lot of sense. – Elian Feb 1 at 11:07

If you're looking for a straightforward idiom for the process you describe, try guilt by association:

The attribution of guilt to individuals because of the people or organizations with which they associate, rather than because of any crime that they have committed.

The victim of this practice (the person who has been judged without direct evidence) is said to be guilty by association.

If you want a colorful idiom for the person himself (especially if the accusations are true, or you believe that they are), consider snake in the grass:

a treacherous person, especially one who feigns friendship; a concealed danger.

share|improve this answer

Worm that lives in poison, sounds like one that practices self destructive habits. Therefore: "He would cut off his nose to spite his face" could be close. Also, "People that live in glass houses, should not throw stones" meaning, Don't talk about/ criticize other people when you have your own problems to tend to. Or, it could mean "He likes to live dangerously"

share|improve this answer

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.