My Greek friend has told me a Greek saying, which roughly translates to:

The thief screams to frighten the landlord

Effectively it means: You are only making a fuss so that nobody accuses you, and you are the one who is guilty.

This seems like a very universal concept, and I was surprised to realise that I couldn't think of the English equivalent to this saying. Is there one?

  • 7
    I think English speakers use "the lady doth protest too much" or even just "protest too much" to indicate that a (prematurely, overly) defensive person is doing more to indicate his or her guilt than allay suspicion. Aug 14, 2013 at 14:45
  • 1
    You may also be interested in sayings extended from rhyming blame exchanges around flatulence, especially "he who denied it supplied it". Aug 14, 2013 at 14:52
  • 1
    It's worth noting that the use of the former of my references is somewhat of a mass misinterpretation of the phrase, having to do with the older sense of "protest" being a positive claim or avowal (rather than the sense of denial the word connotes today). Aug 14, 2013 at 15:03
  • 1
    Try as I might, I cannot see the Greek adage having the meaning you stated. To me it seems it is saying that the damage has already been done, it's too late to do anything. The thief screams (?) or shouts, the home owner (landlord) is scared, but it is pointless to do anything as presumably the thief (or burglar) has escaped.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Aug 15, 2013 at 1:20
  • 2
    @TylerJamesYoung - "Him as smelt it, dealt it."
    – MT_Head
    Aug 15, 2013 at 8:33

5 Answers 5


Though it is basically a misinterpretation,¹ the phrase

The lady doth protest too much, methinks.

is commonly shoehorned into use conveying the sense of the Greek idiom in question.

In practice, the reference is often more oblique, with only “protest too much” retained (possibly even altered slightly to fit the structure of a given sentence), but sometimes the reference is indicated more overtly by the anachronistic appearance of “doth” or “methinks”.

¹As noted on the Wikipedia page for this quote, we've back-applied a modern definition of “protest”.

  • The bit about the definition of protest was recently removed from the Wikipedia article. While it appears to be true that "protest" used to mean "proclaim", there was no evidence given that it couldn't also have shared the modern meaning. Sep 5, 2018 at 15:43

Another and more common English version of this idiom is playing the victim card or simply playing the victim.

Variants include victim playing and self-victimization.

Although the idiom is self-explanatory it is worth reading the wikipedia entry:

fabrication of victimhood for a variety of reasons such as to justify abuse of others, to manipulate others, a coping strategy or attention seeking.


The idiom you mentioned exists in several regional variations. Google has more results for Φωνάζει ο κλέφτης για να φοβηθεί ο νοικοκύρης. That's the "nationwide" version, presumably because it was the title of a major Greek film from the 50ies. It's also the version your friend must have had in mind.

The difference between variations is the second verb, which can get a lot more threatening than just "frighten" (φοβηθεί). I mention that because it corroborates the second interpretation your friend gave you. As I know the idiom, the thief isn't just making a huge fuss, he is actively trying to portray his victim as the perpetrator (a quick search for usage in current Greek papers agrees with that).

It is not a pot/kettle situation: κλέφτης and νοικοκύρης mean thief and house owner respectively, but each word comes with a broader meaning that extends to character. I won't bother you with semantic categories, but νοικοκύρης implies a reliable and honest person (it's a old-fashioned, but it is still possible to use νοικοκύρης as the equivalent of "decent") whereas κλέφτης is a trickster with no redeeming qualities.

I don't know one English (or other language, for that matter) expression that conveys the crucial point, which is the perpetrator blaming the victim.

  • The question asks for an English equivalent. This isn't an answer, but a (good) comment on the question. Apr 1, 2015 at 17:32
  • @EdwinAshworth Technically, the question asks if there is an English equivalent. He is saying that he doesn't think there is.
    – Urbycoz
    Apr 2, 2015 at 12:53
  • @Urbycoz So the last sentence is the only relevant part of the above on ELU; the rest explains the Greek. And 'I don't think there is' is not an answer worth up voting. If you're correct when you say 'Effectively it means: You are only making a fuss so that nobody accuses you, and you are the one who is guilty.', then Tyler's answer (which you accepted) is spot on, and 'I don't think there is' is senseless. If you're not, then your question is poor. Apr 2, 2015 at 13:26

The phrase "crocodile tears" is used to accuse a person of seeking sympathy (by purposefully crying) when that person is either unfeeling and untrustworthy (like a crocodile) and seeking sympathy for insincere reasons, which might include the strategy to direct blame away from them if they are guilty. For example, when parents who are responsible for their own child's disappearance appear visibly upset at press conferences.

Similarly, the phrase "putting on a show" is used to accuse a person of behaving in a way that intends to play a part that is fictional, usually with the intention to distract their audience from some hidden truth. However, the phrase is also sometimes used to simply accuse a person of seeking attention, or showing off, or throwing a tantrum.

  • 1
    Neither phrase is really an equivalent in any sense.
    – Urbycoz
    Aug 14, 2013 at 16:23

Pot calling the kettle black is probably the closest in meaning although this phrase can be used in situations which are less inimical.

  • 2
    This is specific to situations where accusations are levied by someone who would make as good or better a target for the same attack, and generally even more specific to ad hominem attacks on the intended target's character. It is not, as I understand it, used in reference to guilt or blame. Aug 14, 2013 at 15:16
  • 1
    Nothing like the OP. Aug 14, 2013 at 15:17
  • the Wikipedia entry would suggest otherwise. This phrase is considered comparable to the snake and crab idiom
    – user49727
    Aug 14, 2013 at 15:27
  • 1
    In either case, the message is that one flawed party is denigrating another. Both members of either pair (pot/kettle or snake/crab) have the same or similar defect (which, again, is understood to be one of character), it's just that the fault-finder is doubly wrong for outwardly applying a standard to which it does not hold itself. Aug 14, 2013 at 15:38
  • There's a difference of implied intent. Neither the pot nor the crab are actively, consciously seeking to deflect an accusation from the outside world. When a thief is excessively indignant (behavior which, by the way, is completely consistent with my experience in retail security), it is a conscious, deceptive ploy made with full knowledge of personal guilt. Aug 14, 2013 at 15:48

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

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