There's a colloquial saying in Tamil that I am used to,

If you throw stones at sewage, it's your dress that will get spoiled"

It means if you try to change the opinion/behavior of a stupid/adamant person by offering them some good advice, only your reputation will be lowered because they won't be willing to listen to you. Apart from not paying heed, they would probably name-call or badmouth you in front of others causing embarrassment to you.

Just to give you some context on how this is used, let's say you spot a school going kid smoking cigarettes. You politely walk up to him and advise that smoking is dangerous to health and environment. But he is too arrogant and starts loudly abusing you in public.

That is, trying to help a person who is not willing to listen will only prove to be detrimental for your own good.

  • I found "You can lead horse to the water"TFD very close but I feel it doesn't convey the repercussions(sewage spoiling the dress).

  • Also, to shoot oneself in their foot seems equivalent but I think it is applicable to scenarios where you planned to harm the other person but ended up getting harmed. In my scenario, you approach someone with good intentions but end up abused.

Are there any other phrases that I can consider?


A possible duplicate has been raised citing Are there any English idioms to describe “futile benevolence?”

I am not sure about the other question but I should clarify that in my context, the person knows that their actions (benevolent or otherwise) could potentially backfire. Yet they decide to go ahead and confront. The original saying has a slightly humorous or warning undertones to it.


A: Oh my God! Look at those ignorant folks raising slogans against Vaccination...I will go and explain them about all the Vaccination benefits.

B: I suggest not. If you throw stones at sewage (attempt to correct things), it will only spoil your dress (causing harm/embarrassment/ill repute etc.)

Hope this clarifies.

  • 1
    I'm not sure how 'throwing stones at' can be a vehicle for 'offering good advice'; 'casting pearls before swine' means offering advice futilely, but has been covered on ELU before. Commented Mar 1, 2016 at 11:29
  • @EdwinAshworth - It is not. "A good advise" is just an example. I mean any action that is rubbished by the receiving party. Casting pearls before swines means doing good things for undeserving people, doesn't it?
    – BiscuitBoy
    Commented Mar 1, 2016 at 11:35
  • 1
    @A.S. I don't think that fits here. Lying down with dogs don't necessarily mean trying to help someone.
    – NVZ
    Commented Mar 1, 2016 at 11:59
  • 1
    @NVZ You are right - I was inattentive in reading the details. But then I don't get how is "throwing stones at sewage" a proxy for "trying to do something positive" - what positive purpose could that action have? I took it upon the first reading as "playing with sewage" (sleeping with dogs) (vs throwing stones into clean water/sleeping without dogs).
    – A.S.
    Commented Mar 1, 2016 at 12:12
  • 1
    Star Trek provides us with "It is said that arguing with reptillians is like bargaining with the sun: you make no progress and you come away burned." But it's hardly a well-known colloquialism. Commented Mar 13, 2016 at 9:36

7 Answers 7


The quotation Never wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it is widely attributed to George Bernard Shaw. I don't know how true it is that he actually said that, but it certainly seems to convey the English-language equivalent of your colloquialism.

  • 7
    As Winston Churchill said, "Every quote on the Internet is attributed to George Bernard Shaw"
    – Chris H
    Commented Mar 1, 2016 at 18:53
  • 6
    @Chris I thought it was Shaw who said that.
    – A.S.
    Commented Mar 1, 2016 at 21:35
  • According to The Yale Dictionary of Modern Quotations (2012), the earliest incarnation of the quotation is from Richard Calhoun, Moving Ahead on Your Job (1946): "Never wallow in the mud with a pig, because the pig likes it." The earliest version with "wrestling" in place of "wallowing" and "you get dirty" included was, the Yale dictionary says, from 1950.
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented Nov 17, 2017 at 4:43
  • As late as The Harper Book of Quotations (1993), the wording was rightly attributed to Cyrus Ching (1950). The earliest Google Books match to credit Shaw is Brand Immortality (2008).
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented Nov 17, 2017 at 4:54

A line similar to the pig one is “Do not argue with an idiot.  He will drag you down to his level and beat you with experience.”Attributed variously to Oscar Wilde, George Carlin, Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens), and others.

Reference: Origin of “do not argue with idiots”.


It's like mud wrestling with a pig. You'll both get dirty but only one will like it! (Just saw Charl E's quote...mine's a popular expression I've heard, not attributable to anyone that I'm aware of.)

(in honor of National Pig Day - March 1st)

pigs in mud


It seems the most similar idiom I can think of is "Spitting into the wind" A useless act of spite against an uncaring target (throwing a stone into sewage/spitting into the wind doesn't hurt it.) with a potentially disastrous result (sewage splashing on your clothes/having your own spit blown back into your face)

  • 4
    Slightly cruder variant: pissing into the wind.
    – Jeremy
    Commented Jan 4, 2018 at 13:29

If you really want to emphasize what happens to the stone-thrower, consider:

No good deed goes unpunished.


The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.

Both of which carry the connotation that the stone thrower is going to experience trouble for their attempt to do something good.


Pigeon Chess is the more recent incarnation of the pig-wrestling similie: https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Pigeon_chess

The original quote, referring to debating creationists, was in 2005 by Scott D. Weitzenhoffer:

Debating creationists on the topic of evolution is rather like trying to play chess with a pigeon — it knocks the pieces over, craps on the board, and flies back to its flock to claim victory.

However, the most common version (as seen in internet memes) is:

Arguing/Debating/Negotiating with XXX is like playing chess with a pigeon - it knocks the pieces over, craps on the board, then struts around as if it's won.


The phrase "pearls before swine" has almost exactly that meaning. In it's longer form it's "do not cast your pearls before swine", and that is a short form of a biblical quote:

Do not give what is holy to the dogs, or cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet and turn and tear you in pieces. (NKJV translation)

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