I'm looking for English equivalent of Polish saying "Wpuścić chłopa do biura to atrament wypije" literally meaning "You let a boor into the office and he will drink ink".

This saying is commonly used to describe uneducated, ignorant or even aggressive person that has no idea what he's doing, or is doing something that is commonly punished by society. That person is also unaware of the consequences of his activity or pretends to be, and even if you make him realize that, he will ignore it. You can also say that it is highly predictable that if you let him into some space/give him some tool he will do the most idiotic thing one could imagine.

- We're not allowing students to use lasers since the last accident when one of them looked straight into the beam without protective glasses and damaged his eye.
- My God, you let a boor into the office and he will drink ink.

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    The closest thing I can think of right now is that such a person could be said to be like a bull in a china shop. Mar 12, 2016 at 19:46
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    There's also the somewhat related fools rush in (where angels fear to tread) meaning "The rash or inexperienced will attempt things that wiser people are more cautious of." Mar 12, 2016 at 19:51
  • @JohnClifford Yes, that was what immediately occurred to me. It seems close to the Polish saying.
    – WS2
    Mar 12, 2016 at 20:08
  • @WS2 Would you say it's worth posting as an answer? Mar 12, 2016 at 20:10
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    I wanted to suggest something along the lines of "You'll put your eye out" from A Christmas Story, but given the example actually involves eye damage, that might be a little too on-the-nose. (Or slightly up and to one side as it were.) I might go with something more general like "This is why we can't have nice things!" Mar 13, 2016 at 15:47

6 Answers 6


One of the closest idioms to this I know of is like a bull in a china shop meaning

very ​careless in the way that they ​move or ​behave:

Or alternatively, fools rush in (where angels fear to tread) which means

"The rash or inexperienced will attempt things that wiser people are more cautious of."

  • +1 But I thought you were going to do bull in a China shop. I'd add that one too, if I were you. It was the one I thought was closest to the Polish expression.
    – WS2
    Mar 12, 2016 at 21:07
  • Oh! I got a bit confused and wasn't sure which one you were referring to. Mar 12, 2016 at 21:07
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    Hey, this is very similar to another saying "Być jak słoń w składzie porcelany" that is "To be like an elephant in a porcelain warehouse"
    – Colonder
    Mar 12, 2016 at 21:25
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    Polish sayings are starting to be one of my favourite things. :) Mar 12, 2016 at 21:26
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    I just find the ones you've been asking about so far amusing, and Polish seems to have a fair few sayings for things we don't have idioms for yet. Mar 12, 2016 at 21:32

The [Yale] Dictionary of Modern Proverbs (2012) has this possibly relevant saying:

You can put lipstick on a pig but it's still a pig ([or] A pig wearing lipstick is still a pig).

Wolfgang Mieder, "Yes We Can": Barack Obama's Proverbial Rhetoric (2009) offers a series of closely related sayings:

From the twentieth century there are also such variants [of "lipstick on a pig"] as "A pig in a palace is still a pig," "A pig with feathers behind its ears is still a pig," "The pig may have a tuxedo on, but he is still a pig," "A pig painted gold is still a pig," and "A pig in a parlor is still a pig."

The point of these expressions is that putting something (or someone) in a setting where it doesn't belong won't change the thing's nature, and may have harmful effects on its new environment.

  • Also a good choice Sven, nice one. Mar 12, 2016 at 20:29
  • I'd always taken that one as meaning "making an ugly thing pretty doesn't mean it isn't still ugly" so it's interesting to see it used in this context. Mar 12, 2016 at 21:06
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    These expressions are not as well known in Britain. Indeed the lipstick on a pig was completely lost on me when Sarah Palin used it. However we do talk of it being impossible to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear - which seems similar in meaning.
    – WS2
    Mar 12, 2016 at 21:21
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    @WS2: Mieder, whom I cite in my answer, traces the "lipstick on a pig" saying to the much older "sow's ear/silk purse" proverb, too. Another familiar saying, with somewhat similar point, is “You can take the kid out of the country/street/projects/hood/ghetto/estate but you can't take the country/street/projects/hood/ghetto/estate out of the kid.”
    – Sven Yargs
    Mar 12, 2016 at 21:29
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    There's a nice variant specific to not engaging with, arguing with, fighting with or reasoning with the ink-drinking boor: "Don't wrestle with a pig. You'll both get dirty, but the pig will enjoy it" Mar 13, 2016 at 23:15

Hanging oneself seems pretty idiotic, so “Give someone enough rope and he'll hang himself” might capture the meaning of the Polish saying in certain contexts.

If you give someone that you suspect of bad behavior the freedom to behave badly, eventually he or she will be caught and punished.
Jill: I think Matilda's been stealing things out of my desk. Should I tell the boss?
Jane: No; give her enough rope and she'll hang herself. One of these days she'll steal something important, the boss will find out for himself, and he'll fire her.

(from ‘McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs’ via ‘The Free Dictionary by Farlex’)


Sounds like an accident waiting to happen.

2 A person certain to cause trouble.



Having an interpretation similar to the 'lipstick on a pig' idiom:

"You can dress her up - but you can't take her out."


There's also a great Gary Paulson quote:

You can take a man out of the woods, but you can't take the woods out of a man.

I believe the implied meaning is: it's hard to switch from one's upbringing. In this case, a character was having hard time adjusting to life in society after years of living alone in the wilderness.

I have heard, possibly degrading, modifications on this like "you can take the boy out of the trailer park..." which seems to imply a lesser class status and all associations that go with that. The statement would only be applied when someone was acting out of the social norm and is unaware, or believes they are acting in a 'normal' fashion based on what their accustomed to. This could be considered rude or boorish.


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