I am having difficulty finding an English idiom / expression to describe these situations:

  • A person who was previously poor then becomes arrogant because she/he is rich now.

  • A person who has been helped (because she/he really needs it) but she/he just walks away (and forgetting the person who has helped her/him) after achieving a comfortable state.

Is this appropriate: "A rolling stone gathers no moss"?

My native proverb is: "The nut that forgets its skin"

  • 8
    That's not what "a rolling stone gathers no moss" means. This means a life with a lot of excitement may miss things (like making good friends). There's nothing there about forgetting one's past.
    – Mitch
    Jul 30, 2013 at 13:54
  • 2
    "A rolling stone gathers no moss" can also refer to a person who changes locations, jobs, careers, etc. so much that they don't accumulate any wealth. The way I've most thought of it is that an active, vibrant person who lives life to the fullest isn't weighed down by baggage or other signs of stagnation. But I have no idea if this is a common or correct interpretation… :)
    – ghoppe
    Jul 31, 2013 at 0:15
  • This question keeps reminding me of an antonym to what the asker is looking for: still Jenny from the block! Jul 31, 2013 at 1:50
  • The term social climber can be used in the first case. It’s mildly perjorative, as opposed to bogus, or a pretender, which are more disapproving.
    – user205876
    Feb 12, 2021 at 6:00
  • To which I will add something of a social climber as an idiomatic expression. This is definitely mocking.
    – user205876
    Feb 12, 2021 at 6:03

16 Answers 16


Such a person can be said to have "forgot where he came from", meaning he's forgotten his humble roots and is acting as if he was born to wealth.

  • I wonder if that is an English idiom (?), thanks anyway. Aug 1, 2013 at 5:54
  • @Des, are you looking specifically for UK English idioms? Aug 1, 2013 at 16:45
  • Actually I am looking for both British and American English idiom(s). Aug 1, 2013 at 21:38
  • I cannot think of a better term to say that a person turns their back and has no sympathy for the past. I am not sure if people are old enough to have watched the Beverly Hills Hillybillies - the family very definitely had 'not forgotten where they came from' and maintained their grace and humility - however, putting aside that they kept their clothing habits and car(which worked in their favor) they might be called novoue riche by neighbors by mansion with vases etc that they didn't appreciate themselves. (but again, saved from that by being true to selves in so many other ways)
    – Tom22
    Jun 9, 2018 at 16:14

One such is nouveau riche:

noun [treated as plural] (usually the nouveau riche)

people who have recently acquired wealth, typically those perceived as ostentatious or lacking in good taste


[A rolling stone gathers no moss is not the same]

  • 2
    This is the best answer for the first situation. I would add, for the second situation, the word ingrate.
    – JeffSahol
    Aug 1, 2013 at 23:44
  • I agree nouveau riche is good for the first situation too, although it has connotations more of someone who becomes wealthy, but has no idea how to engender the behaviours of those born to wealth. It implies a certain tackiness, and bad and ostetatious taste. The Russian oligarch and his blatant display of wealth is a common archetype when describing this kind of person. For the second situation, 'user' is a colloquail, if inexact term. A 'user' climbs socially or professionally, then forgets the people 'used' to get himself'herself there.
    – Pete855217
    Apr 6, 2016 at 16:33
  • I think this is dead wrong for how that term has historically been used and the definition doesn't fit the OP. Ostentation might have aspects of arrogance, but this word points to the aspect that is about "taste" and 'misunderstanding imitating the wrong things in the hope of impressing others that 'had made it". Like not realizing he looked like an idiot joining a Waspy golf club with people he shared no cultural ties too then showing up there in a Ferrari with his hair tinted and wearing expensive sunglasses. Arrogance has nothing to do with it, more being a buffoon to those who label them
    – Tom22
    Jun 9, 2018 at 16:20
  • Famous literary examples of Nouveau riche are The Great Gatsby or humorously the character Steve Martin played in the Jerk.
    – Tom22
    Jun 9, 2018 at 16:23
  • Your example of the chap in the Ferrari seems to match "ostentatious and lacking in good taste" to a T.
    – Andrew Leach
    Jun 9, 2018 at 16:25

"A rolling stone gathers no moss" is a proverb rather than an idiom. It means that people who constantly move from one place to the next never make money or friends.

A proverb that meets your definition is:

Set a beggar on horseback, and he'll ride to the Devil.

(Source: Proverb Hunter)

  • Thank you. Is there any other idiom you might consider? The situation could be also like this: A person who has been helped (because she/he really needs it) but she/he just walks away (and forgetting the person who helps her/him) after achieving a comfortable state. Jul 31, 2013 at 1:06
  • @Des. Apparently, there is a Japanese proverb that is equivalent as: A satiated mouth soon forgets the benefactor. Maybe someone could provide the original.
    – Shoe
    Jul 31, 2013 at 5:40
  • If you re-read my question, what I need is English idiom(s), thanks. Aug 1, 2013 at 21:31
  • 1
    @Des, An idiom for someone who actively harms their benefactor is: to bite the hand that feeds you. idioms.thefreedictionary.com/bite+the+hand+that+feeds
    – Shoe
    Aug 2, 2013 at 6:41

Such a person is often described as "Putting on airs."

A single-word that describes this is "pretentious." It implies that the person is undeserving of of their current position.

Other synonyms include poseur, poser, and imposter.

  • This is (another) good answer. It strongly implies that a person is not only pretentious, but also above their "station" - disregarding who they are in terms of past and present combined. To some degree it might be misapplied out of jealousy when a person situation-ally acts appropriately to their new station (I.E. accusing a person who rose from rough urban streets to the Supreme Court for using formal language while giving a lecture, would be an unfair use of this term, but more fairly if the person attended their old church and didn't warmly great old friends personally)
    – Tom22
    Jun 9, 2018 at 16:30

I generally hear this (sad to say) in racial terms.

For instance, a black person who does this is called an "Oreo" (black on the outside, white on the inside). A Native American in this situation is called an "Apple". (red on the outside...well, you get the idea). I've heard of Chinese similarly being called "bananas", but I'm not acquainted with enough Chinese to know how common that one is.

  • I’ve heard banana too; I’d say it’s fairly common. Similarly, I’ve been called an egg myself on occasion. Sep 18, 2014 at 8:13

Consider social climber

a person who strives to gain a higher rank in society, usu. by associating with more socially prominent people.

Social climber is a term that could be used by someone of any social status when characterizing a person seeking to be accepted in a status higher than previously inhabited.

You might also consider

These last three are more likely to be used by someone of a higher class looking down on the climber. The last may have special issues in its use (at least in the US) because of its association with the term uppity

putting on or marked by airs of superiority : arrogant, presumptuous

This term was used extensively in the 20th century to refer negatively to African Americans (and sometimes other minority groups) who sought to be treated equally.


After two days I think I have it: victim of one's own success.


Perhaps not the best answer, but a related (and useful) quote:

It pays to be nice to the people you meet on the way up, for they are the same people you meet on the way down. — Walter Winchell

There's also the more ghetto-type phrase (relevant, although vulgar):

Acting like your [excrement] doesn't stink.


"Forgetting that the rungs on the ladder to success are people, not things to be stepped on."

In other words, people provide us with the rungs on which to climb the ladder of success; they themselves are not the rungs to be stepped on on the way up!


American Midwesternism:

"Dropped his past like a live grenade." Sometimes "dropped his friends like a live grenade" or "dropped the old neighborhood like a live grenade."

Point of the metaphor is that he didn't just quietly stop having anything to do with where he came from; he treated like something dangerous (the way a live grenade is). To drop is just to pretend it's not there; to "drop like a live grenade" is to take active measures to get it away from you.

  • Good, except that this dropping is, as you say, quite active - it is hardly just "forgetting". It is active and intentional, and probably conscious.
    – Drew
    Jul 11, 2015 at 1:57
  • I think this is a good expression. In reply to Drew's comment, if a person "forgets" their roots, it's because they want to, it's not accidental, or due to memory loss. This post just needs a reference to support this answer.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jul 11, 2015 at 4:50
  • Well, the Harvard Lampoon parody of The Lord of the Rings, "Bored of the Rings", described the inhabitants of the Sty (i.e. their take on the Shire) as "They shortened their names and elbowed their way into all the country clubs, dropping their old language and customs like a live grenade" (page xviii of the front material) which seems to be the earliest I can find it in print on a quick search. Page number in original Signet Edition was Year of pub was 1969. Not sure how thorough a reference is needed here.
    – JohnBarnes
    Jul 12, 2015 at 7:54
  • For a less military version, substitute 'hot rock' for hand grenade.
    – Stan
    Jul 23, 2016 at 5:17
  • Although the hot rock loses something of the sense that one is not just getting rid of one's past, but actively casting it away as if it were dangerous. There seem to be idioms for both denial about one's social past and for pretense about it.
    – JohnBarnes
    Jul 31, 2016 at 21:23

"Boy, don't he think he's walking in tall cotton!" --Something my grandad says about people who are suddenly too good to pay you any mind.

  • Does such a person think he's so great because the cotton in his fields has grown so tall? Apr 13, 2017 at 21:00

You might say that such a person has gotten too big for his/her britches or gotten too big for his/her boots:

Conceited, self-important, as in Ever since he won that tournament he's gotten too big for his britches, or There's no talking to Jill anymore—she's just too big for her boots. This metaphoric idiom alludes to becoming so “swollen” with conceit that one's pants or boots no longer fit. [Late 1800s]


By itself it doesn't necessarily imply that someone came from humble beginnings, but used with "gotten" it suggests a change in someone's behavior.


The best I can come up to describe the sentiment: Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

If you wanted, you could put your own spin on the phrase: absolute wealth corrupts absolutely.


wake up one day thinking the sun shines out of one's ass

think the sun shines out of (someone's) backside/butt/ass/arse (chiefly BrEng)

To believe a person is better or more important than others or above reproach. (Note: If thought about oneself, it means that they are arrogant, conceited, or self-absorbed. If someone thinks this of another person, it means that he or she loves or admires that person to such a degree as to be blind to any of their potential faults.) Tom has acted like he's such a hotshot after getting the promotion. He thinks the sun shines out his backside! He's absolutely head-over-heels in love with Mary. Even though I find her a bit irritating, he thinks the sun shines out her backside.

Farlex Dictionary of Idioms

forget the hand that fed you

Google Books

bite the hand that feeds (one)

To repay generosity or kindness with ingratitude and injury.

American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language


kick away the ladder

burn the bridges


We have a bengali saying to describe such a person. When translated to English it goes something like this: When you drop a fish from the small pond into the big pond, it dances around in wild excitement.

  • 1
    A good thought, but unfortunately not an idiom in English as requested. I encourage you to take the tour and keep contributing, and welcome to EL&U.
    – livresque
    Feb 12, 2021 at 2:32

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