We have a saying in my country:

He doesn't need music to start dancing. He is already dancing without music!

Which figuratively means: He doesn't need any special, real, or necessary excuses for taking advantage of a situation or to interfere in other people's affairs. He uses the smallest pretext for his unwanted intervention/taking advantage. Let alone you encourage him with more excuses or opportunities.

The saying expresses one's disapproval: He is ready to use any excuse, even the smallest one, for doing something, and this behavior really bugs me! This sarcastic observation is in fact criticizing the person's behavior. And we're also warning the listener not to give that person any excuse.

Here are two scenarios which illustrate the saying:

A: Suppose that my son doesn't like studying math, he continually postpones doing his assignments, and uses any excuse to avoid doing them. For example, his father asks him to help with some chores in the garage when he has lots of math homework to do! The next day he goes to school with his unfinished assignment, and when I ask for an explanation, he replies: "I had to help Dad!"; in this instance I might scold my husband like this:

"He already dances without music! Why did you give him an excuse to escape from doing his assignment? You should have asked for his help after he had done his assignment."

B: My mum has diabetes, sometimes she doesn't follow her diet plan and eats sweet food in secret. Whenever there is a family gathering, everybody feels sorry for her and tells me: Don't tell her not to eat this, not to eat that, so often! Let her eat anything she likes just this time! At which point, I reply:

"Sorry, but you don't know something, she is already dancing without music!

by saying this, I mean that she is already eating everything she wants (secretly), let alone I actually give her permission to ‘bend the rules’!

(Actually when we say "he dances even without music", it implies that he knows how to dance, even without the music, so if you play music for him, he will dance better.-[he knows how to take advantage even there is a small chance, so if you provide him with more chances, he would/might take even more advantage.]

Question: Is there any word, term, idiom, expression, saying, quote, or proverb that conveys the same meaning, when talking about someone with this * opportunistic* character?

  • I've answered again now that you've edited the question. Jul 17, 2015 at 22:30
  • @Mari-Lou A! ,Hi! And thanks for you excellent editing! :)
    – Soudabeh
    Jul 18, 2015 at 6:31
  • 1
    My pleasure, it is a very nice question. :)
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jul 18, 2015 at 6:34
  • Someone who dances without (the benefit of) music might also be someone who "acts without (the benefit of) thinking." Such an impetuous and impulsive person probably doesn't need any [more] ideas, so the warning "Don't give him/her any ideas" might fit; but neither the "opportunistic" nor the "interfering" notion that you're after is present in this warning. (+1 for your nice question!)
    – Papa Poule
    Jul 19, 2015 at 14:02
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    Options would be "Don't encourage a spoiled brat" or "Don't encourage a thief".
    – AMN
    Jan 23, 2020 at 7:36

15 Answers 15


I believe the idiom have an eye to/for the main chance comes close. It is more of a British idiom.

Someone who has an eye to/for the main chance is always ready to use a situation to their own advantage. Cambridge

As you can see from the definition, the expression emphasizes that one is always ready to take advantage of a situation and always looking for opportunities. He is basically opportunistic.

The origin of the phrase comes from gambling:

The origins of this expression lie in the gambling game of hazard, in which the person about to throw the dice calls out a number between five and nine. This number is called the main or the main chance, and if someone rolls it they have won.

Oxford Dictionary of Word Origins by Julia Cresswell

  • @Soudabeh: Thanks Soudabeh. It is a very good and an exemplary question also.
    – ermanen
    Jul 22, 2015 at 15:53

Many a parent will say this to the other parent, when the other is thought to have been too generous or lenient with the children:

Give them an inch, and they'll take a mile.

It's used as a caution against the type of opportunism illustrated in the question. And there are several related forms, such as, "Give a fool an inch, and he'll take a mile," and "Give her an inch and she thinks she's a ruler."

Source: A Dictionary of American Proverbs By Wolfgang Mieder, Stewart A. Kingsbury, Kelsie B. Harder

Another possibility, cited from a collection of English proverbs:

He who handles a nettle tenderly is soonest stung. Figuratively, when one is dealing with troublesome people and affairs, the use of gentle methods will subject one to harsh and painful reaction, from which you will not suffer if you employ drastic measures. 1579, Lyly: True it is that hee which toucheth the nettle tenderly is soonest stoung. 1753, Aaron Hill, 'The Nettle's Lesson'-- Tender-handed stroke a nettle/ And it stings you for your pains;/ Grasp it like a man of mettle,/ And it soft as silk remains.

from A Book of English Proverbs by V.H. Collins, 1959.


"He already dances without music! Why did you give him such an excuse to escape from doing his assignment? You should have asked for his help after he had done his assignment!"

Rather prosaic but.

"He doesn't need any excuses to get out of doing his homework. You should have asked for his help after he had done his assignment!"

You can find other examples by Googling "need any excuses" - include the quotation marks.


While the idiom is not current, the King James Bible, Proverbs 26:17 says

He that passeth by, and meddleth with strife belonging not to him, is like one that taketh a dog by the ears.

So, from chasly's answer, such a person can be called a "meddler".

EDIT It occurs to me that, while I've never heard an English phrase which expresses

He doesn't need any special, real, or necessary excuses for taking advantage of a situation or to interfere in other people's affairs. He uses the smallest pretext for his unwanted intervention/taking advantage. Let alone you encourage him with more excuses or opportunities.

there is a phrase which implies it.

Don't encourage him. Spoken with a shake of the head, and often a tone of weary disgust.

  • 1
    @Soudabeh - see my edit for a second thought. Jul 22, 2015 at 17:32
  • Yes, @WhatRoughBeast, we say that saying exactly with the same gesture you have described!, It is close to what is in my mind! , I'm really grateful for giving your time to this question! , I wish I could upvote you again! :)
    – Soudabeh
    Jul 22, 2015 at 17:39
  • Don't you know any proverb or idiom ,...that means" Don't encourage someone!"?
    – Soudabeh
    Jul 22, 2015 at 17:41

Perhaps you can use "give him your hand and he will take your whole arm"

Here you can see some examples of use:

Give Them Your Hand and They’ll Take Your Whole Arm

The Daily Vertical: Give Moscow Your Hand, It'll Take Your Whole Arm

Give Them a Hand They Will Take the Whole Arm?

Sometimes you may find it worded as "give a finger and take the whole hand" or "give a finger and he take the whole arm"

You can also find it in "A Dictionary of American Proverbs" By Wolfgang Mieder, Stewart A. Kingsbury, Kelsie B. Harder

Other versions may be "give an inch and take a mile" (as jsoteeln pointed out) or "give a dime and take a dollar"

  • 1
    Good, thanks!, +1, @SamuelVimes!, can you give your source,too? ( is it an English proverb?) , :)
    – Soudabeh
    Jul 22, 2015 at 16:10
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    @Soudabeh Sorry about the delay. I have added some examples in case you find them helpful. This idiom is found in other languages besides English, such as in Spanish or Russian... Jul 22, 2015 at 22:25
  • Oh, @SamuelVimes! thank you so much For giving your time to this question! Very good answer! :)
    – Soudabeh
    Jul 23, 2015 at 2:30
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    @Soudabeh, you are welcome :)! I am glad to have been able to help Jul 23, 2015 at 14:50
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    This is a common saying in Italy too, both versions finger (dito) and hand (mano) are used: dare un dito e farsi prendere il braccio I didn't realize what an international proverb it was.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jul 23, 2015 at 15:50

" he doesn't need any special, real and necessary excuses for interfering

busybody describes this sort of person.

busybody /ˈbɪzɪbɒdi/ noun

a meddling or prying person.

"others considered him an interfering busybody"

Google Dictionary

  • 2
    @Soudabeh - in American usage, a busybody is one who pries into the affairs of those around him, usually spreading gossip in the process, but does not imply giving unwarranted advice. That would be reserved for an "interfering busybody". Jul 17, 2015 at 13:51
  • @chsaly from UK! I edited my question, any idea now? :)
    – Soudabeh
    Jul 17, 2015 at 16:28
  • @Soudabeh - Yes - I've added a new answer. Jul 17, 2015 at 22:33
  • Instead of writing a new answer, you can edit an "old" answer and include a caveat. I was tempted to downvote this post because it is the wrong answer to the OP's question as it now stands. FTR and for future references; there is no need to write three separate answers when all you have to do is edit an "outdated" answer.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jul 18, 2015 at 6:05
  • As the question stands now, this seems completely unrelated and strange. I would suggest deleting this answer altogether—it's likely to draw downvotes and just confuse readers now. Jul 18, 2015 at 10:45

strike while the iron is hot/make hay: to take advantage of an opportunity

spin a yarn: to concoct a far-fetched tale
You could say, "Don't give him a yarn to spin".

Out of the question, but malinger is someone who uses illness as an excuse to skip work


In the context of the original post, perhaps the following is applicable:

Any port in a storm

  • [...] used to say that you will use anyone or anything for comfort, help, etc., when you are in a bad situation [Merriam-Webster]
  • In adverse circumstances one welcomes any source of relief or escape [Oxford]

It is used in a negative context and means that anything (i.e. an excuse) would be good enough to get out of the situation (in your example, this would be doing maths).


To a person offering a cannolo to my endearing, but weak-willed 84-year-old diabetic aunt, I might cry:

Don't give her enough rope [to hang herself]!

Which in Italian is: dare corda [a qualcuno]. The admonishment “non darle corda”, akin to "don't encourage her", takes it one step further; the speaker warns that the attractive proposal will lead to the person's downfall.

However, in its the affirmative form, to give somebody enough rope to can hang themselves, is simply a ruse whereby the miscreant is given total freedom that will sooner or later reveal their true colors (character).

The Free Dictionary defines: give somebody enough rope as: to allow someone to do what they want to, knowing that they will probably fail or get into trouble

Collins Dictionary has: to allow someone to accomplish his or her own downfall by his own foolish acts

  • @Мair-Luo A! Thanks! +1, interesting idiom! , we use another idiom in Persian that conveys exactly the same meaning! :)
    – Soudabeh
    Jul 25, 2015 at 16:34
  • @Soudabeh does the Persian saying includes the term rope? I'm becoming quite curious as to the proverb's origin. Could you reply with the Persian equivalent, in the Roman alphabet, please?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jul 25, 2015 at 18:08
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    No,@Mari-Luo A! We say like this: "(now that he doesn't listen to your advice or words) let him do what the hell he wants to do, his head will hit the rock for sure!", by saying his head will hit the rock , we mean he will face big obstacles or difficulties and his will definitely fail, (and then he might be regretted!) :)
    – Soudabeh
    Jul 25, 2015 at 18:28
  • In Roman alphabets : bezar har ghalati ke mi khad bekone!, motma'ennan saresh be sang mikhoreh!
    – Soudabeh
    Jul 25, 2015 at 18:31
  • You're welcome, dear @Mari-Luo A! :)
    – Soudabeh
    Jul 26, 2015 at 0:18

For your 'clouds' saying, I suggest:

There's no need to add fuel to the fire.

add fuel to the fire

Also, add fuel to the flames. Worsen an already bad situation, as by increasing anger, hostility, or passion, as in Bill was upset, and your making fun of his mishap just added fuel to the fire. This metaphor dates from Roman times-Livy used it in his history of Rome-and it remains in common use. For similar metaphors, see add insult to injury; fan the flames.


  • Thanks, @chasly from UK!, but my focus is on "intervention", does this expression convey the same meaning? :)
    – Soudabeh
    Jul 17, 2015 at 12:24
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    A folksier way of expressing this is "to throw gasoline on a fire", if you happen to live somewhere where they call it "gasoline". Jul 17, 2015 at 15:28

An enabler may fit into this context. It's mostly used in the classification of drug user, but it still means the same thing. Allowing someone to do something that you know they shouldn't.


Children become spoiled when they learn how to run over their parents and the parents do nothing about it. Not just children either, you can spoil anyone, or any living thing really. If you feed your dog treats every time it begs for one, even if the dog has done something he wasn't supposed to.. you are basically spoiling the dog to the point that he will not listen to you.


I think your son, and especially your Mother are clearly "well ahead of you (all)" or simply "well ahead of the game", which means being "in a winning or advantageous position." (Dictionary Reference)


I interpret someone who doesn't need music to dance as someone who doesn't need outside impetus to act; but you interpret it as someone potentially opportunistic, which is more specific and negative, and in my American eyes is a baffling interpretation of the proverb.

Someone potentially opportunistic is an opportunist: A person who exploits circumstances to gain immediate advantage rather than being guided by consistent principles or plans.

Someone who dances without music is self-motivated: Motivated to do or achieve something because of one’s own enthusiasm or interest, without needing pressure from others.

  • yes,@vladkornea, we have different interpretations, but my interpretation is exactly what we Iranians have in our mind, when we use this saying, simply it means:" he is opportunist." :)
    – Soudabeh
    Jul 21, 2015 at 2:09

Wolfgang Mieder, A Dictionary of American Proverbs (1992) has this proverb:

He who holds the ladder is as bad as the thief.

The idea is that enabling or abetting bad behavior is part and parcel of the resulting misdeed.


You could say these people march to a different beat:

Also, march to a different drummer. Act independently, differ in conduct or ideas from most others, as in Joe wanted to be married on a mountain top—he always marches to a different beat, or Sarah has her own ideas for the campaign; she marches to a different drummer. This idiom, alluding to being out of step in a parade, is a version of Henry David Thoreau's statement in Walden (1854) [...] It came into wide use in the mid-1900s.


In America, "marching to the tune of a different drum," isn't necessarily viewed as something disdainful--even though such people are often difficult to deal with--because an opportunistic character is often the hallmark of a strong individual. In the conclusion of Walden, Thoreau wrote:

Why should we be in such desperate haste to succeed and in such desperate enterprises? If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away. It is not important that he should mature as soon as an apple tree or an oak. Shall he turn his spring into summer? If the condition of things which we were made for is not yet, what were any reality which we can substitute? We will not be shipwrecked on a vain reality. Shall we with pains erect a heaven of blue glass over ourselves, though when it is done we shall be sure to gaze still at the true ethereal heaven far above, as if the former were not?



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