In Malayalam/Indian, there's a saying "Thala Irikkumbol, Valu-attaruthu!", which literally translates to:

When the head is present, tail should not wag.

It means that one should not act out of turn in the presence of one's superiors.

Consider: Mafia bosses A and B discussing stuff; a low-ranking member M chimes in interrupting them; A puts a bullet between M's eyes saying something-cool-here.

I'm not limiting answers to mafia style, though that would be cool.

What are other English idioms equivalent to this?

  • 1
    Your "saying" looks to me as if it might have actually derived from English versions along the lines of The tail should not wag the dog, except our one usually alludes to the inappropriateness of "minor, peripheral" agents influencing whoever should be in charge - usurping control, rather than simply acting out of turn. Commented Feb 21, 2016 at 18:07
  • @FumbleFingers Well, it does also mean usurping control in a sense. Thanks for that new phrase.
    – NVZ
    Commented Feb 21, 2016 at 18:09
  • Note that although my link finds a few hundred written instances, Anglophones don't normally present this particular idiomatic figurative allusion as a "saying, aphorism, piece of advice". More commonly it's just incorporated into a negative assessment of a current situation, so there are tens of thousands of written instances of (this is a case of) the tail wagging the dog. Commented Feb 21, 2016 at 18:29
  • 2
    Hmm. I'm not sure that whoever came up with this idiom had ever actually met a dog. Because that's not how dogs operate. Commented Feb 22, 2016 at 16:59

4 Answers 4


Something cool here could be:

"When I want your opinion, I'll tell it to you." - Indicating the speaker has power over the one they are talking too, doesn't care what they think, and he/she has spoken out of turn. Sometimes "I'll tell it to you." can be replaced with "I'll beat it out of you.", when the speaker is more violent.

"Know your role, and shut your mouth!" - Not so much an idiom as a wrestler's catch phrase. But it fits, and it is fun to say.


Before putting the bullet between M's eyes, A could say that M should be put in his place.

to let someone know that they are not as important as they think they are


A could rhetorically ask M as to who's running the show, before pulling the trigger on M's head.

to be in charge; to be in command

[The Free Dictionary]


I tend to concur with @FumbleFingers, I think the saying in Tamil/Malayalam is derived from tail wagging the dog. The saying in Tamil goes something like:

தல இருக்கும் போது வால் ஆட கூடாது {thala irukum pothu vaal aada koodathu}


Children should be seen and not heard

From The Phrase Finder

In the original form of this proverb it was specifically young women who were expected to keep quiet. This opinion is recorded in the 15th century collections of homilies written by an Augustinian clergyman called [John] Mirk's Festial, circa 1450:

Hyt ys old Englysch sawe: A mayde schuld be seen, but not herd.

A 'sawe', or 'saw' as we would spell it now, was a mediaeval term for saying or proverb. It has the same root as the words 'say' and 'saga'.

While the expression was aimed at women, the Old English names denoting gender are now somewhat altered. A 'mayde' was normally a young female, usually unmarried, although it was also used to denote celibate men. Girls however, could be of either sex, the term simply meaning young child.

If you used this phrase today, mothers everywhere (in the US at least) would rise up and denounce you. But how I wish the airlines would enforce it!

  • 2
    This was a phrase that came to my mind, too, when I first saw this question. However, I think this phrase applies mainly to children and adults (esp. in modern use), while the O.P.'s proverb seems to be more focused on the adult world. The original means, in essence, "Don't be a silly employee in front of the board of directors," or something akin to that.
    – J.R.
    Commented Feb 22, 2016 at 16:00
  • 1
    @J.R. Agreed. But some interns barely out of the egg are very mouthy.
    – ab2
    Commented Feb 22, 2016 at 16:03

There is a similar proverb in English, when (or while) the cat's away, the mice will play which means:

Without supervision, people will do as they please, especially in disregarding or breaking rules. For example, As soon as their parents left, the children invited all their friends over when the cat's away, you know . This expression has been a proverb since about 1600 and is so well known it is often shortened, as in the example.

[The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms]

You can change the proverb to fit in your context:

When the cat's not away, the mice should not play.

  • Hi, Rathony. I wonder if we can change an idiom or proverb so that it suits our purpose? Because I've always thought and told idioms and proverbs shouldn't be changed or adapted to suit the purpose and still be called idiom or proverb.
    – haha
    Commented Feb 23, 2016 at 19:41
  • @haha There will be no writers for comedy or comedian themselves if they are not allowed to change the existing idioms or proverbs. For example, Words speak louder than action. I can use it to describe a person who always talk without taking any action. Idioms and proverbs were created at one point of time by somebody. It hit the spot. People kept using it. As long as it makes sense, I don't see any reason why you can't change it to fit in the context.
    – user140086
    Commented Feb 24, 2016 at 4:21
  • What I actually mean is not that we cannot change the idioms or proverbs to fit in the context, I mean I think we cannot change it and yet call it proverbs or idioms. If OP didn't say "What are other English idioms equivalent to this?" it is no problem but he did.
    – haha
    Commented Feb 24, 2016 at 8:18
  • @haha I suggested a proverb. I will end this conversation here.
    – user140086
    Commented Feb 24, 2016 at 8:25

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