We have this expression in Hindi slang. Situation:

A: "I can't believe he treated me like that. I was stupid to trust him"

B: "Don't beat yourself up. How were you supposed to know he would stoop so low? After all, a**holes don't walk around with horns on their heads"

What B is trying to say is that bad people don't have distinctive physical characteristics. They look like normal people and there's no way to tell them apart.

Is there some English expression that conveys this?

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    Is there any reason you can't use that phrase exactly as you've written it? I've definitely heard variations on it before ("don't walk around"), so it sounds very natural to me. – krman May 1 '15 at 8:05
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    Namaste, funnily enough I'm pretty sure I have heard that type of phrase in English -- so, "the devil doesn't always have horns!" It would be absolutely understandable in English. – Fattie May 1 '15 at 9:04
  • Note that Centaurus has solved it below .. good one – Fattie May 1 '15 at 16:25
  • Devil in plain sight ? – ermanen May 1 '15 at 17:10
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    Leonard Cohen wrote a poem describing Adolf Eichmann's physical characteristics, which unsurprisingly were normal. The poem ends something like: "What did you expect? Talons? ... Green saliva?" – David Garner May 7 '15 at 19:53

I suggest this old saying by Tucker Max "How were you supposed to know he would stoop so low? After all, the devil.......

I suggest this old saying by Tucker Max.

Tucker Max - an American author and public speaker.

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    +1 but beware: it's very clear what this quote is saying and it very closely matches the meaning requested by the OP, therefore it's a good answer; but it's not a well-known "expression". – ChrisW May 2 '15 at 11:19

Area, the only phrase I can think of that's like this is, you sometimes hear variations on "sign on their head" or "sign hanging over their head" or "sign over their head..."

So, "assholes don't go around with signs over their head" or "I wish idiots had a sign over their head alerting me to the fact they were idiots.." sort of thing.

As I mention in a comment, it's absolutely understandable. And, I'm pretty sure I've actually heard someone say something pretty much like this (using the word "horns") in English. So, you know, something like "the devil doesn't go around with horns and a tail!"

{Footnote: My grandparents etc are Scottish and I get some subtle linguistic clues from them. it's just possible there is some connection there since, as you know, there are many connections to Scottish usage, accent, etc in the subcontinent. perhaps there's a scottish saying along the lines of devils not always coming with handy visible horns (that would be typically miserable of scots grandmothers!)}

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    I like the sign over the head, I have heard that said. – David Pugh May 1 '15 at 9:22
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    I like this one too. Upvote. Please provide some sources, though. – Tushar Raj May 1 '15 at 9:27
  • i don't honestly have an refs for that .. sorry! – Fattie May 1 '15 at 9:39
  • Sign could also be substituted for "Warning Label" with the same effect. – alpha1 May 1 '15 at 16:22
  • Sounds a lot like Bill Engvall's famous "Here's your sign" standup routine: "I just hate stupid people. They should have to wear signs that say 'I'm Stupid'. That way you wouldn't rely on them. You wouldn't ask them anything. You'd be like, 'Excuse me... oh, sorry, nevermind. I didn't see your sign.'" – Mason Wheeler May 1 '15 at 18:39

Shakespeare said that someone (Iago, I think) "could smile and smile and be a villain", also that "There's no art to find the mind's construction in the face." (Macbeth) Can you use that?

The Hindi expression is a good one, we should steal it.

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    Imagine using Shakespeare to console a friend who's been dumped. Now I'm the a-hole! – Tushar Raj May 1 '15 at 7:57

A phrase that came to mind was Evil doesn't advertise but apparently it isn't widely used, nor is The Devil doesn't advertise, so I don't know if I'm misremembering something there.

While we're on Shakespeare however, from Hamlet,

the devil hath power to assume a pleasing shape

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    outstanding. yes, of course "Evil doesn't advertise" or "The Devil doesn't advertise" is something of a phrase. (For example, consider the 30s novel "Murder must advertise" .. a play on those.) – Fattie May 1 '15 at 16:24

Why not Shakespeare? In Othello Iago says:

But I will wear my heart upon my sleeve

that is, he claims to display his emotions openly, but of course he does quite the opposite. If you explicitly want a slang expression (something modern), Shakespeare actually made it to the urban dictionary. Since the Hindi expression also uses a negative construction you could say something along the lines of: people don't wear their hearts on their sleeve. Or, if your English speaking friend is familiar with Shakespeare's work, you could just call the treacherous, stony-hearted devil incarnate - Iago.

P.S. If you want to offer words of comfort, after a while saying that this person's leaving was good riddance might be the right phrase.

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"A wolf in sheep's clothing" comes to mind:

  • a person who hides the fact that they are evil, with a pleasant and friendly appearance. (Cambridge Dictionary)
  • After all, how could you say that he was a wolf in sheep's clothing?
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  • Good one. I'm sorry if this seems a bit anal, but there's a slight difference. A wolf in sheep's clothing implies the wolf is actively trying to hide his appearance to fit in. I'm looking for something that means bad people look the same without trying. – Tushar Raj May 1 '15 at 7:54
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    You're not being anal. It's really totally unrelated. – Fattie May 1 '15 at 9:05

As a native speaker of American English, the best equivalent I can think of is people "wearing a sign" to indicate what their qualities are. Not really used as an idiom but definitely a common metaphor. Here's Your Sign is a comedy album by Bill Engvall named after this concept.

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