In Brazilian Portuguese, we have:

"The bird who goes around with a bat wakes up hanging upside down"

Original: "Passarinho que anda com morcego amanhece de cabeça pra baixo"

The literal meaning is that the bat is a bad company (the kind our mothers warn about) and the bird will wake up like a bat, hanging on a branch upside down.

I suspect this kind of humour is more prone to happen in the "New World" than in the old Europe, but maybe all English-speaking people share a similar expression. If not, which expression(s) could be globally understood?

  • 1
    But what is the meaning?
    – tchrist
    Mar 16, 2013 at 20:13
  • @tchrist, well, seems my translation is not good enough, updated the Q.
    – brasofilo
    Mar 16, 2013 at 20:17
  • 1
    My problem was understanding the intent behind it. One might also translate it more like “The bird who goes around with a bat wakes up head down”, which is more literal, or “wakes up hanging upside down”, which is the intent and has a nice up–down opposition.
    – tchrist
    Mar 16, 2013 at 22:11
  • @tchrist, perfect, thanks for the input and improvements.
    – brasofilo
    Mar 16, 2013 at 22:15
  • How can you expect anyone to know what will be "globally understood"?
    – Lambie
    Sep 21, 2021 at 23:18

2 Answers 2


I’m not quite sure what you’re looking for, but perhaps one of these suits:

  • Bad company corrupts good morals/manners/character.
  • You lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas.
  • Yes, the bad company is the moral of the "story", and the dog/fleas is pretty much the meaning but without much humour.
    – brasofilo
    Mar 16, 2013 at 20:23
  • @tchrist: Yes, your first example paraphrases 1 Corinthians 15:33, King James Version: Be not deceived : evil communications corrupt good manners. Mar 17, 2013 at 1:49

Dogs and fleas would be my first response, but I would also suggest:

"Better to be alone than in bad company,"

This is often mistakenly attributed to George Washington, but he was not its originator. Rather, he learned it (and likely later popularized it) when at age 16 he copied by hand a book called 110 rules of Civility & Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation which stated the expression more fully as

"Associate yourself with men of good quality if you esteem your own reputation; for tis better to be alone than in bad company."

This book was in turn based on a 1640 English translation of a French Jesuit publication of 1595

As far as the global reach of this expression, I personally hear it only very occasionally in English, but much more frequently in Spanish:

"Mejor solo que mal acompañado"

  • Perhaps it's more common in Spanish because, in 1595, Spanish was Catholic while England was Protestant. At that time a Jesuit publication would have been a dangerous thing to own, let alone quote, in England.
    – BoldBen
    Sep 16, 2021 at 7:50
  • I was about to downvote this as non-idiomatic in English, but on checking found that it was used (in English) by George Washington, which isn't easy to see from your linked article, and further popularised by John Hughes in 1987. If research was shown, this would become a better answer. Sep 16, 2021 at 10:12
  • @EdwinAshworth Citations added
    – Kirt
    Sep 16, 2021 at 21:09
  • @BoldBen Quite possibly true. I also wonder to what extent Washington popularized it in the Americas but not among other Commonwealth speakers of English.
    – Kirt
    Sep 16, 2021 at 21:11

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