I want an idiom for the situation where a non-challenging environment gradually spoils a good worker.

If a brilliant programmer worked with a group of mediocre programmers for quite a long time, he or she would eventually become a bad programmer (with or without knowing it).

I have found the following in google results:
One bad apple spoils the whole bunch

But I need something like One good apple is spoiled by many bad apples
or good apples should not be mixed with bad apples

  • +1 Take a shot at The Workplace as well. They have great ideas and use interesting idioms. – Kris Feb 7 '14 at 6:23
  • bad habits are contagious. – SrJoven Sep 7 '14 at 5:17

If you lie down with dogs, you will get up with fleas ( or in Latin, qui cum canibus concumbunt cum pulicibus surgent).

The quote has a large almost universally agreed meaning of "You should be cautious of the company you keep. Associating with those of low reputation may not only lower your own but also lead you astray by the faulty assumptions, premises and data of the unscrupulous."


Also, the below sayings would fit depending on the context:

  • Tell me with whom thou goest and i'll tell thee what thou doest. (tell me who you go with and I'll tell you who you are)
  • Man is known by the company he keeps.
  • Evil companions bring more hurt than profit.

If you no longer have the advantages or skills you used to have, you can consider the phrase lose your edge. This might not depend on your environment though.

to lose the qualities or skills that made you successful in the past


  • I need something like "If you hang around with average programmers, you will find yourself become one among them". The people in question are not bad people as such... I too love dogs – dynamite Feb 7 '14 at 5:09
  • 2
    Well, you can apply idioms/proverbs to specific conditions like yours also. They have greater meaning than the meaning of the individual words in it. There is also "lose your edge" that may fit: idioms.thefreedictionary.com/lose+edge – ermanen Feb 7 '14 at 5:17
  • lose your edge is really a great answer.. thanks ermanen – dynamite Feb 7 '14 at 5:23

Forum.wordreference.com and www.usingenglish gloss the phrase he who touches pitch shall be defiled. It means, generally, one cannot associate with dirty things (eg, mediocre programmers) without getting dirty oneself. As I'd expect, google ngrams shows use of the phrase touch pitch as far more common in the 1800's than before or after, pitch being in common use aboard sailing ships.

From idioms.thefreedictionary.com, tarred with the same brush means “sharing the same characteristic(s); having the same good or bad points as someone else”, and from en.wiktionary, “To characterize using the same undesirable attribute, especially unjustly”. If a job shop is known for so-so products, people are likely to think of its employees as tarred with the brush of mediocrity. A worldwidewords.org entry for the phrase notes “There’s nothing directly racist in its history” but indicates why some may mistakenly think so.

Also, although not it's not well-known in English, the following proverb may apply in much the same way as “If you lie down with dogs, you will get up with fleas”:

How can you avoid wetting your shoes when you frequently walk on the riverside. ‒ WISDOMCHINA.htm


A couple come to mind:

"You are who you hang around"
"You become who you surround yourself with"


I'd suggest "Use it or lose it"


  • It would be much better if you included the definition, because links can "rot". – Mari-Lou A Sep 7 '14 at 14:44
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    @Mari-LouA: You're the one who suggested link would be enough. You also haven't demanded that of other answers to this question. Feel free to edit as you see fit. – keshlam Sep 7 '14 at 16:46
  • I'm not picking you out. I honestly do leave comments asking users to improve their answers, but I'm not fanatical about it. When users have provided links, etc. I delete my comments. Very often when posts consist of only one line answers with no explanation they get deleted by mods (I'm not one myself). That's probably why you aren't aware. In fact, on this very page, there is a deleted post, invisible but to those with a certain number of rep (+10,000(?)! – Mari-Lou A Sep 7 '14 at 17:14

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