In Tamil, there is a proverb that translates to something like this:

A tiger will not eat grass, no matter how hungry it is.

It essentially is used to describe a situation in which no matter how dire of a situation you're in, you will not use your last resort. In this case, it's used to describe that even if a tiger is starving to death, it won't eat grass (because it's a carnivore). I really couldn't find any sort of English idiom that can accurately describe this Tamil proverb. Please post all related English idioms as answers, even if they are only partially accurate.

A possible situation I might use this in: Alice was a hardworking student who believed that she could receive an A in her class without using extra credit.

I might use the idiom to describe Alice in this situation, as she refuses to use her last resort (extra credit), no matter desperate she is (because she believes she can earn an A without extra credit.)

  • 1
    For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?
    – user31341
    Commented Jul 30, 2016 at 1:31
  • Could you add an example of a situation where you might use the expression? I have a few ideas, but I'm not sure I fully understand the original idiom.
    – 1006a
    Commented Jul 30, 2016 at 3:45
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    But in Malayalam, the equivalent proverb translates to "A tiger will eat even grass when it's desperate". I don't understand why this difference exist between our languages.
    – NVZ
    Commented Jul 30, 2016 at 3:57
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    @jlovegren Matthew 16:26, I believe ;) - Also, cats do 'eat' grass, and "In cases where food is not available or for the purposes of easing digestion, the tiger will eat berries, grasses and different types of fruit." (tigers.org)
    – Mazura
    Commented Jul 30, 2016 at 17:23
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    @Mazura shh, we don't want that information to spread!
    – fi12
    Commented Jul 30, 2016 at 17:58

5 Answers 5


"a tiger won't change his stripes" is a saying, with some variations like: "a tiger/leopard/zebra can't change its stripes to spots".

  • a person's character, especially if it is bad, will not change.

  • certain personal traits are unchangeable.

It means that a person's character, especially if it is bad, will not change, even if they pretend it has changed.

  • "I doubt very much that marriage will change Chris for the better. A leopard doesn't change its spots."

EDIT - If you mean that Alice has an advantage that other people don't know about, you may say that "she keeps an extra ace up her sleeve" or "...a card up her sleeve". (keeping it back until the time is right)

  • I understand what you're trying to say here, but the meaning of the idiom is a little different in this case. The idiom is used to communicate the situation in which a person will refuse to use their last resort, no matter how desperate they are. Still a good answer, nonetheless!
    – fi12
    Commented Jul 30, 2016 at 15:25
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    The saying is "A leopard cannot change his spots" and is biblical in origin: Jeremiah 13:23
    – Greybeard
    Commented Oct 8, 2021 at 11:13

You can take a horse to water but you can't make it drink

is an idiom that means that you can present to people a favorable situation for which all they have to do is act to take advantage of, but you can't force them to do this good thing for themselves. This is sort of like advice, you can give it but you can't make someone take your advice.


If you are willing to loosen your requirement from will not use slightly, consider the phrase Mexican standoff:

A Mexican standoff is a confrontation between two or more parties in which no participant can proceed or retreat without being exposed to danger. As a result, all participants need to maintain the strategic tension, which remains unresolved until some outside event makes it possible to resolve it. - wikipedia

Here, the idea is that although there may be a weapon of last resort, using it would lead to a situation no better than not using it. Hence it is not used. A large-scale example of such a situation was the Cold War, where although the Western Bloc and Eastern Bloc both possessed weapons that could be classified as weapons of last resort, neither side used them.


bred in the bone, from Dictionary.com

  1. firmly instilled or established as if by heredity

  2. deeply committed or resolved; unwavering

the proverb “What is bred in the bone will not come out of the flesh,” first recorded in England (in Latin) circa 1290, widespread in various versions since the 15th cent

From Oxford Reference

Lifelong habits or inherited characteristics cannot be concealed .... .. in earlier usage often contained a negative (as in John Heywood's Dialogue of Proverbs (1546), ‘It will not out of the fleshe, that's bred in the bone’


“Old habits die hard” is also a common proverb used nowadays. From my understanding, I believe it means that it’s very hard for someone to change especially if it was from something bad, though change is constant so is habit.

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