There is a common Russian expression, literally translated as "winners are not judged". The meaning is that one can get away with cutting corners and/or employing less-than-wholesome means in pursuit of some goal, provided one actually achieves the goals. In other words "the ends justify the means, so long as you actually achieve the ends".

Is there a compact English idiom for this notion?

  • 1
    What's wrong with "The end justifies the means"?
    – Robusto
    Commented Feb 8, 2013 at 17:36
  • The bare quote is giving a thumbs up from the commentator rather than decrying or at least querying the 'winning is everything' attitude. Commented Feb 8, 2013 at 17:39
  • 9
    History is written by the victor is perhaps closer. Commented Feb 8, 2013 at 17:41
  • 1
    It is also reminiscent of the old joke: what do you call a man who was last in his class in med school? Doctor.
    – Kit Z. Fox
    Commented Feb 8, 2013 at 18:09
  • 2
    A related concept - The Golden Rule: he who has the gold makes the rules
    – bib
    Commented Feb 8, 2013 at 18:26

4 Answers 4


I wondered why no-one else had suggested the definitive answer, until I ran a Google search that showed it to be much more common here in Australia than anywhere else.

Winners are grinners.

or its long form

Winners are grinners and the losers can please themselves.

It is particularly apt that last night a high-profile (Australian) sportsman "won" a boxing match at the end of 10 rounds because his (South African) opponent believed the poster that said "12 Round Title Fight". Winners are grinners captures the spirit perfectly!


A well-known saying (often attributed to Churchill, though I can't find any evidence for this) is...

History is written by the victors.

...which I think is the standard English version of OP's translation from a Russian equivalent, given that he seems to be looking for something conveying an element of cynicism after the event, rather than the self-justification before the event often implicit in "The end justifies the means".


Inasmuch as breaking rules to achieve one's objectives can lead to harsh judgement, U.S. Navy Admiral Grace Hopper observed:

It's easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission.

which is also reported, in this variant:

If it's a good idea, go ahead and do it. It is much easier to apologize than it is to get permission.

Although this doesn't have exactly the same meaning as "winners are not judged" it does imply that winners who break the rules are judged less harshly, if they are judged at all.

I hear this often in the U.S. and abide by it myself at times.

  • I like this - it certainly does capture the spirit. If there are no other suggestions for a few days, I'll accept it. Commented Feb 8, 2013 at 18:58
  • Rear Admiral Hopper quite likely wasn't the origin of that phrase, but she did make heavy use of it, and if anyone deserves to be considered its patron, so to speak, it's her.
    – Jon Hanna
    Commented Feb 8, 2013 at 23:07

to the victor go the spoils, alternatively winner take all

These idioms are not usually applied to explain or excuse actions morally, but they are sometimes. Consider the idiom famously attributed (incorrectly) to Winston Churchill, "history is written by the victors."

The application in this form would mean that in some competitions, (such as war or love) even the truth is a trophy, even the facts concerning what has occurred can change to further benefit the champion.

Also make note of the comments on the OP, the ends justify the means (or its varients, "the ends never justify the means," "the means justify the ends,") is an idiom in its own right.

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