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The saying “Don’t get in between the nail and the flesh” from my own language is typically addressed to someone who likes to provide unsolicited help by barging in on a heated conversation between two people; usually ending up making things worse by adding more oil to the fire.

I’m looking for an equivalent expression in English.

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    That's a nasty idiom; beautiful! What language is it, and how is it written? – Wayfaring Stranger Mar 16 '15 at 13:06
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    In Italian it's Tra moglie e marito non mettere il dito. (don't meddle = put a finger between a husband and wife) – Mari-Lou A Mar 16 '15 at 14:57
  • @Mari-LouA Not necessarily an argument between wife and husband - could be two relatives, two friends etc. and since it's a metaphor it can also refer to other than people; e.g two conflicting parties as someone's comment (deleted) hinted to. – user15851 Mar 16 '15 at 15:50
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    That's why I didn't propose it as an answer :) I can't think of an idiom in Italian nor English that captures your native one quite so well. I'm stuck! – Mari-Lou A Mar 16 '15 at 15:52
  • @Mari-LouA I'm glad to hear this -- at least you admit you can't find an equivalent idiom. I respect that. – user15851 Mar 16 '15 at 15:56
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You can consider the proverb "Don't go between the tree and the bark." (as common usages are listed already.)

It conveys the precise meaning you are looking for (analogy to nail and flesh) but it never gained a common usage; and might be mainly literary. [There are also other usages with the phrase "between the tree and the bark".]

Meaning: Don't interfere when two people are having an argument.

English proverbs / wikiquote.org

It might be of European origin but it is mentioned in the novel the Modern Griselda by Maria Edgeworth (1804) which might be the first usage in English. [Maria Edgeworth is an Anglo-Irish writer].

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But, an earlier usage is mentioned in Le Médecin malgré lui (a comedy by Molière first presented in 1666) where the character Sganarelle misquotes Cicero. (from the book The Dramatic Works of Molière by Molière)

enter image description here

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Something that carries the same violence as the original might be the idea of getting in the crossfire, i.e.

Leave Bob and Alice alone! You don't want to get stuck in the crossfire, do you?

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  • There isn't any violence in the original idiom. Actually, what the metaphor seems to imply is that only dirt can get in between the flesh and the nail. So when one is interfering between two people having an argument s/he is being like 'dirt'.. – user15851 Mar 16 '15 at 20:50
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Don't poke your nose where it's not wanted

This phrase means roughly the same as yours, without the painful metaphor!

It is an appeal to nosy people to not meddle in others' affairs.

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    Yes, but it doesn't really convey the meaning expressed in the saying I provided -- to poke your nose between TWO people --just two. – user15851 Mar 16 '15 at 11:04
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I have two possible suggestions:

  1. Mind your own business!
  2. Come not between the Nazgûl and his prey! Or he will not slay thee in thy turn. He will bear thee away to the houses of lamentation, beyond all darkness, where thy flesh shall be devoured, and thy shrivelled mind be left naked to the Lidless Eye.

If the first one doesn’t work, then try the second: I promise it will get their attention. :)

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    So if we use this in a situation like someone trying unsuccessfully to mediate in a conjugal dispute, which spouse would you suppose would be the Nazgûl, and which the prey? – Janus Bahs Jacquet Mar 16 '15 at 14:43
  • @JanusBahsJacquet This is one of those scenarios where the speaker refers to themself in the third person. Should the speaker be feminine, merely switch both instances of he to she. – tchrist Mar 16 '15 at 14:46
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Like yanking on a dog's ears.

For several hundred years, the full proverb has been translated into English, but I like Kenneth Taylor's rendition:

Interfering in someone else’s argument is as foolish as yanking a dog’s ears

Proverbs 26:17

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stick your snoot in/into (sth):

Collins dictionary states-

  • to try to discover things or influence events that are not really your affair:
  • Stop sticking your snoot into other people's business!
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"Silence is Golden" Not specific for "don't meddle into a heated argument", it can still be used in the situation you have mentioned. It is used in circumstances where saying nothing is preferable to speaking.

from Cambridge Dictionaries Online - "said to mean it is often better to say nothing"

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@ermanen's answer may be the idiomatic equivalent of your literal translation but I believe that in the context (as supplied by your comment below) the saying should be interpreted as:
Don't do the work of the devil.

We'd call that playing devil's advocate (usually preceded by 'please stop'). That answer also connotes more of a warning that you shouldn't get involved for some reason, rather than saying that you shouldn't intentionally cause mischief.

devil's advocate; noun -dictionary.com

  1. a person who advocates an opposing or unpopular view, often for the sake of argument

Old answer:

Don't sully yourself; Usually: with (something). This cliche appears in 15k Google hits.

Sully: -MW

to make soiled or tarnished

Middle English sullien, probably alteration (influenced by Anglo-French suillier, soiller to soil) of sulen to soil

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  • -You seemed kinda hung-up on the whole 'dirt' thing; I thought this of note. – Mazura Mar 17 '15 at 3:00
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    The saying, in fact, has a religious connotation. In Muslim culture dirt represents Satan (Shaytan) who is always depicted as an instigator who likes to see people unhappy, argue, fight, split or kill each other -- hence the metaphor. – user15851 Mar 17 '15 at 8:17
  • Sounds like the idiom Playing Devil's Advocate. – Mazura Mar 17 '15 at 8:27
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    The devil is not mentioned in the saying -- it's implied; and to be honest, this is the first time I thought about the true meaning of the idiom. I maintain, ermanen's answer is the closed to the intended meaning in my saying -- don't interfere when TWO people are arguing. – user15851 Mar 17 '15 at 10:09

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