I am looking for an idiom or proverb that can be used in situations which the lowliest dare mock a mightiest because of his/her age and thus considering him/her enfeebled.

There is proverb in Persian which literally means:

"The jackal derides an old lion".

The connotation or implication of the proverb is that age destroys even the mightiest (= the lion) and most noble, to the extent that the lowliest (= the jackal), who would have never dared in his prime, now mock him.

For example; imagine that a famous veteran football coach whose team has been defeated recently, is being criticized and mocked by some young or newly-appointed officials who barely have any knowledge of the game; they even demand he be fired. Then this coach's fans would say:

"Heh! Look who is talking! Jackals deride an old lion!"(= How dare you mock this veteran coach and assume him useless and weak?!)

I have noticed that there is a perfect analog in German:

"Alten Wolf verspotten die Hunde"

which means "Dogs deride an old wolf".

Does English have a direct analog too? If not, is there any idiom, proverb or saying in English which conveys the same meaning?

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    As in "Age enfeebles even the mightiest, such that even the lowliest may mock him"? Is anything else implied or connoted by this proverb? Is it mocking the old lion, or supporting him?
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Jul 8, 2015 at 8:27
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    Please give us examples of how the saying would be used in conversation. The meaning of proverbs is not always self evident. Who would say this and in what circumstances? Commented Jul 8, 2015 at 8:39
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    @Soudabeh: There's no close proverb that I can think of. But I don't think you need one. "Jackals deride/mock an old lion" is pretty strightforward and nobody should have trouble understanding what it means. And I personally find it cool when some character on a show starts a line with: "We have a saying in my country..."
    – Tushar Raj
    Commented Jul 8, 2015 at 9:02
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    @Soudabeh: No. I mean that in situations where you find the urge to use this proverb, instead of settling for an English equivalent, use the original. You can optionally preface it with the line I metioned.
    – Tushar Raj
    Commented Jul 8, 2015 at 9:08
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    This doesn’t fit your idiom, but I felt it worthy of a comment because it would fit in your example sentence very nicely: “Look who’s talking! He’s forgotten more than you’ll ever know about football.” It kind of insults both parties: the young one for knowing so little & the old one for having forgotten so much!
    – Papa Poule
    Commented Feb 20, 2016 at 18:48

4 Answers 4


"How the mighty have fallen!" Is fairly close in applicability and intent. It's from the Bible (2 Samuel 1:27). See here for some discussion.

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    A very nice quote. However, I don't see the aged-related insult or coming from the lowliest. Frankly, an idiom of the OPs type in the US would be inappropriate if not rude. Possibly purely for comedic purposes ...
    – Stu W
    Commented Feb 21, 2016 at 5:06

A reference to "Ozymandias" or "Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!" mocks someone who used to be great, but through the passage of time has been eroded into oblivion. The quotations are from a poem by Percy Shelley:

I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”


A very general expression of the fact that many people act braver in safety than in danger appears in Charles Pidgin, Theodosia, the First Gentlewoman of Her Time (1907):

We are all brave when the danger is past.

Jon Stone, The Routledge Book of World Proverbs (2006) contains a similar saying which it identifies as an Italian proverb:

All are brave when the enemy flees.

Stone also has a rather ironical proverb related to the changed attitude people have toward a powerful person who is no longer powerful, this one from Ireland:

The Irish forgive their great men when they are safely buried.

None of these examples is entirely on point with regard to mockery by the weak toward the formerly strong. Perhaps the closest match on that point is (again from Stone's book) this Italian proverb:

When the lion is dead the hares jump upon its carcass.

But whereas I've heard versions of the first three expressions spoken in English, I've never heard anything like this last one.


You might refer to the arrogance of youth or youthful arrogance.

The phrase is to be interpreted literally - arrogance that is a symptom of being young.

For example in your football coach example you might say:

Oh the arrogance of youth! It's so easy to criticise when you are young!

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