In Malayalam/Indian, there's a saying "Paashaanatthil krimi". It literally translates to

Worm that lives in poison.

It is used while judging people who keep bad company as being bad themselves. It is used to address someone inimically; to say that a person who can survive in poison is probably very poisonous himself.

Birds of a feather flock together means that similar people tend to associate with each other. It is not suitable here.

What can be an equivalent English phrase?

This is purely out of curiosity, and in any event, I don't intend to judge people.

  • 7
    What is the source language? and the what is the idiom in the source language?
    – Daniel
    Commented Jan 31, 2016 at 7:54
  • @LightnessRacesinOrbit Touché! But, you know, for academic purposes only.
    – NVZ
    Commented Jan 31, 2016 at 17:15
  • @NVZ: Hehe​​​​​ Commented Jan 31, 2016 at 17:31
  • 4
    @LightnessRacesinOrbit aren't you judging him, his language or his culture right now? Commented Feb 1, 2016 at 5:17
  • 4
    "The bird who goes around with a bat wakes up hanging upside down" in Brazilian Portuguese. Found on a similar SE question.
    – URB
    Commented Feb 1, 2016 at 5:39

6 Answers 6


The equivalent in English would be

If you lie down with dogs, you will get up with fleas

Prov. If you associate with bad people, you will acquire their faults

[The Free Dictionary]

Their usage example fits very well with your context.

Granddaughter: It's not fair. I'm starting to get a bad reputation just because I'm friends with Suzy and she has a bad reputation.

Grandmother: It's only natural. People think that if you lie down with dogs, you will get up with fleas.

  • 4
    Minor note, just like "When in Rome" this phrase is sometimes truncated to just the first half. "Well, if you lie down with dogs." Commented Feb 1, 2016 at 11:52

You could consider using He that touches pitch shall be defiled (therewith) which means:

As a person who handles tar gets dirty, so someone who comes into contact with wicked people is liable to be contaminated by them.

[The Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs]

It is close to Man is known by the company he keeps which means a person tends to associate with people who are like him or her.

  • 8
    Apparently that's a real proverb, but it sounds really weird, archaic, and/or historical (probably because it is). I mean "defiled", really? Sorry road-pavers, I guess you're "unclean". I couldn't imagine ever using this myself, or hearing it from most of the people I know. Anyway, interesting find, but not very useful. Commented Jan 31, 2016 at 15:01
  • @PeterCordes According to the source, the proverb first started to be used in 1303. It's pretty old and I don't think it has been broadly used compared with what BiscuitBoy suggested or "Man is known by the company he keeps". Proverbs do sound archaic and they might disappear if people stop using it. But it does have wisdom and that's what a proverb is for.
    – user140086
    Commented Jan 31, 2016 at 17:15
  • I'd say this one should stay dead. It seems to encourage thinking along the lines that a person can be "unclean", which if I understand correctly, has led to discrimination for bad reasons, and other things that I don't think should be encouraged. It seems to go beyond saying you should guard your valuables around this person, into the territory of saying they're spiritually contagious. And that just being in the same room as them is a problem. The whole "touches pitch" aspect is weird, too. What's so bad about pitch? Just wash with some solvents... So it doesn't even make sense. Commented Feb 1, 2016 at 9:40
  • In summary, there are a lot of old bad ideas that we don't want to keep around or encourage anymore. This might be one of them, depending on interpretation, or it might just be something that's no longer a useful way to express the idea because of modern chemistry and cleaning products. Commented Feb 1, 2016 at 9:42
  • @PeterCordes Nowadays, I don't think pet dogs (in developed world) have fleas.
    – user140086
    Commented Feb 1, 2016 at 12:08

There's also "Judged by the company you keep", a common reference to this biblcal proverb.

  • 1
    Charles Baudelaire said the opposite: Nobody shall be judged by the company he keeps. Judas had exemplary friends.
    – Graffito
    Commented Feb 15, 2016 at 9:03


If you lie with scorpions, you'd better have a taste for poison. Aleksandr Voinov


Tell me who you hang out with and I'll tell you who you are (Mexican-American saying)

That's why the first step in treating a person addicted to alcohol or drugs is to counsel them to stop hanging out with so-called "friends" who encouraged their addiction in the first place. "Tell me who you hang out with and I'll tell you who you are" is the way my mom put it. You.Inc


He who goes with wolves will learn to howl; Live with the wolves and you will learn to howl; Live with wolves and you shall learn to howl; When you are with the wolves you must howl with them. Rec. dist.: U.S., Can. 1st cit. A Dictionary of American Proverbs

He who keeps company/hang around with wolves learns to howl. Mexican-American Saying

Meaning: If you hang around with people who have bad habits, these will rub off on you eventually. A Dictionary of Mexican American Proverbs


You can't touch tar without getting your hands dirty Before It's News

  • Does that have the negative connotations of the original saying, though?
    – user89175
    Commented Jan 31, 2016 at 20:36
  • I think these are not what OP wanted.
    – URB
    Commented Feb 1, 2016 at 3:45
  • @Mari-LouA No, as I understand it, it means, "if you hang around with bad people (rattlesnakes), the bad will rub off on you," i.e. you will also become a bad person.
    – Elian
    Commented Feb 1, 2016 at 10:08
  • @Mari-LouA If you got bitten in the neck by a rattlesnake, it's very unlikely you'd get up again. "What was it my grandfather used to say? "Lie down with rattlesnakes, get up with fangs in your neck.'" ;-) tv.com/shows/dynasty/the-cabin-8024
    – Elian
    Commented Feb 1, 2016 at 10:59
  • @Mari-LouA Indeed. I just meant to point out the saying of Blake's grandfather doesn't make a lot of sense.
    – Elian
    Commented Feb 1, 2016 at 11:07

If you're looking for a straightforward idiom for the process you describe, try guilt by association:

The attribution of guilt to individuals because of the people or organizations with which they associate, rather than because of any crime that they have committed.

The victim of this practice (the person who has been judged without direct evidence) is said to be guilty by association.

If you want a colorful idiom for the person himself (especially if the accusations are true, or you believe that they are), consider snake in the grass:

a treacherous person, especially one who feigns friendship; a concealed danger.


Worm that lives in poison, sounds like one that practices self destructive habits. Therefore: "He would cut off his nose to spite his face" could be close. Also, "People that live in glass houses, should not throw stones" meaning, Don't talk about/ criticize other people when you have your own problems to tend to. Or, it could mean "He likes to live dangerously"

  • But they're not talking about that person, but rather the people who associate with them and get judged for it.
    – smci
    Commented Feb 23, 2021 at 9:10

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