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The Chinese phrase 你行你上 (literally "you good you up", usually expressed in Chinglish as "you can you up") is used against people who criticize the incompetence of others, yet are not competent themselves. The meaning is basically, "if you know how to do it so well, then you do it!"

Is there an idiomatic phrase in English that conveys the same idea?

  • "Armchair quarterback" comes to mind, though it isn't a phrase inciting someone to do something. – Ian MacDonald Aug 22 '16 at 17:05
  • This inadvertently reminded me of 'Get Up, Get Out'. – Mast Aug 22 '16 at 21:13

12 Answers 12

50

Consider If you talk the talk, then walk the walk. It means, essentially, if you brag that you can do something, then do it.

It is a variant of the more general scheme talk the talk... walk the walk, defined by Cambridge as:

(informal) If you say that someone talks the talk but does not walk the walk, you mean that they do not act in a way that agrees with the things they say.


An alternative is put up or shut up, defined as follow:

(informal) If you say someone should put up or shut up, you mean they should either take action in order to do what they have been talking about or stop talking about it.

It means, essentially, stop merely talking about doing something, and do it. Put up (do it) or shut up (stop talking about it).

If someone claims that they can do something better than someone else, the second person could respond: "Put up or shut up."

This expression might more accurately reflect the tone of the Chinese expression, since it carries (or can carry) a slight hostility.


The following phrases and their variants are very similar to your translation of "if you know how to do it so well, then you do it!", but are fairly common in situations like the one described, maybe so common as to be considered partially idiomatic:

  • If you're so good/clever/skilled, you do it!
  • If you're so good, why don't you do it?
  • If you're such an expert, why aren't you doing it?
  • You do it then... [Contemptuously as one drops the hammer and walks away.]
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    +1 I didn't think there'd be a better fit than walk/talk, but put up / shut up even matches the tone. – Lawrence Aug 21 '16 at 14:55
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    I don't think put up or shut up would be used in quite the same type of situation that 你行你上 would. As you say, put up or shut up is a likely answer to someone saying, “I could have done that much better” (it's akin to “take it or leave it”); but the phrase in question here is what you'd say to someone who keeps nagging at you for not doing it well enough, but without actually claiming to do it better. The attitude is right, though: the Chinese phrase is really only the first half of a couplet: 你行你上,不行别比比 (“If you're so good, then you do it; otherwise STFU and mind your own business”). – Janus Bahs Jacquet Aug 21 '16 at 15:01
  • @JanusBahsJacquet That fuller Chinese idiom sounds even more like put up or shut up, though your suggestion Why don't you do it then, if you're so clever? is also an excellent match for the OP's 4-word phrase. – Lawrence Aug 21 '16 at 15:06
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    @Lawrence I think, speaking more exactly, that the difference is in the type of criticism being levelled at you. If someone is (perhaps indirectly) criticising you by giving you supercilious little hints at what you should do to improve your technique or how you can do it better next time, then this phrase would be a likely retort when you get enough. Put up or shut up would feel like an odd retort in that situation; it feels more natural if it's the result of the effort that's being criticised. They're close, but using put up or shut up for 你行你上 could lead to awkward translations. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Aug 21 '16 at 15:24
  • @JanusBahsJacquet I should have clarified that the context I had in mind was someone listening to an incompetent speaker criticising a third party. The listener spits the phrase at the speaker when the listener has had enough of it. In any case, the best I came up with was empty vessels make the most noise. In view of the subject matter, I'm shutting up :) ... for now. :P – Lawrence Aug 21 '16 at 15:45
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Let's see you do better*

is apparently common enough that it's the name of a TV Trope and a(n alleged) logical fallacy.

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Note, though, that it strongly rubs some folks the wrong way, as suggested in the links above and the many other similar complaints.

It can be used when someone is directly criticizing you, but also when someone is criticizing a third party. In fact, most of the instances where it is described as a fallacy refer to people criticizing a professional (filmmakers, game designers, etc.) in an area where they themselves have no expertise. But as, for example, a response to one's spouse's complaint about how the laundry is folded, I think it's perfectly logical (if still perhaps impolitic).


*Also phrased as I'd like to see you do better.

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    Rubbing someone the wrong way is not a problem here—the Chinese phrase (deliberately) does that too. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Aug 22 '16 at 7:33
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    @JanusBahsJacquet Not rubs the wrong way like it's insulting, rubs the wrong way like it makes the speaker look stupid, which is the opposite of the intended effect. – DCShannon Aug 22 '16 at 19:57
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If "You Good, You Up" refers originally specifically to a combat sport or violent situation then yes "Put up or shut up" would match tone, otherwise walkthe walk might be a better fit

The origin of "Put up or shut up" is an invitation for someone to put up their fists, in preparation for a fight.

1858 Marysville (Ohio) Tribune (Electronic text) 21 July, Now, if he means business, let him put up, or shut up, for this is the last communication that will come from me in regard to this fellow.

Another newspaper quote with more context

Cambridge Chronicle, Volume XIII, Number 32, 7 August 1858 quote

If they weren't prepared to do that then they should shut up as their comments were causing offence. This derived directly from the phrase "Put up your Dukes" which was used as early as 1859 as claimed in Dalzell's The Routledge Dictionary of Modern American Slang, and also heard countless times from John Wayne in various westerns whilst I was growing up

As a British English speaker, my only interaction with the phrase "Put up your dukes" was through American spaghetti westerns, and the phrase "Put up or shut up" was never in common parlance in my youth so I'm certain derives from this situation of agitating for a fight

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    I think that "put up or shut up" is common enough in American English to have lost some of its fighting connotations. Personally, I had never thought about the phrase as referring about fighting until just now. – Michael Seifert Aug 23 '16 at 13:06
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There are some English sayings that may convey what you're looking for.

"The best place for criticism is in front of your mirror."

  • "before you criticize others you should first take a look at yourself.

"Don't talk the talk if you can't walk the walk."

  • You shouldn't brag about being able to do something if you can't actually do it.

I, for myself, would probably say: "If you don't like it, do it yourself", which would be readily understood by any amoeba.

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The main one that’s similar to the pot/kettle/black one is people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones, which is explained by the Cambridge English Dictionary:

This means that you should not criticize other people for bad qualities in their character that you have yourself.

For a related groaner, see joke #136 here.


A similar phrase from the Bible is

Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank [or log or beam] in your own eye?
                                [source]

or

And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?
                                [source]

which appears to mean that you should not criticize other people for bad qualities in their character that you have yourself to a much larger degree.

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5

A little bit less literal and more generic expression that can be used would be "The pot calling the kettle black", which means generic "a person is guilty of the very thing of which they accuse another"

(as opposed to specific "a person is guilty of not knowing how to do something but criticizes others for it" as in the original idiom).

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  • coteyr mentioned "the pot calling the kettle black" about eight hours before you (and, if he hadn't, I would have). – Scott Aug 23 '16 at 16:35
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There is no idiom that I can think of for criticizing someone in a situation where the critic also sucks at the task.

Sometimes other idioms are referenced to make the critical person realize that they're doing that. Common examples are:

  • You know what they say about opinions.
  • I seem to remember something about a pot and a kettle.
  • You know the only way to get something done right.

These aren't idioms in themselves—they only reference common ones. The idioms they reference are not really about being critical while not having skills to do the task yourself. But they are close enough.

  • Opinions are like assholes: everyone's got one. (More about not caring about the persons option, or not valuing their opinion.)
  • Isn't that the pot calling the kettle black? (This is the closest to your question. It's one person calling out a flaw that they also have. For example: one fat guy saying to another "You're fat!")
  • The only way to get something done right is to do it yourself. (This one is about how when you delegate a task, it is never done right. It's meant as a kind of insult to the one you delegate the task to. In this case pointing it out to someone being critical is like saying "Well, if you're so awesome at widget-making then perhaps you should just go ahead and make the widget. After all, it's the only way it will be done right.")
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  • The first one, I've also hear in a more extended version. ...everyone's got one and you wouldn't like to have it shoved up your face. – Konrad Viltersten Aug 23 '16 at 16:07
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Where I'm from, a common response when someone suggests that something needs to be done better is "Well volunteered!"

(Though it can also be used in other circumstances, such as when someone points out that something isn't being done at all and needs to be done.)

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In English we sometimes refer to the attitude of the (incompetent) person who gives someone else advice about how to behave as

"Do as I say, not as I do."

The classic story of this attitude is Aesop's fable of The Young Crab and His Mother. The version of this story told in Aesop for Children runs as follows:

"Why in the world do you walk sideways like that?" said a Mother Crab to her son. "You should always walk straight forward with your toes turned out."

"Show me how to walk, mother dear," answered the little Crab obediently, "I want to learn."

So the old Crab tried and tried to walk straight forward. But she could walk sideways only, like her son. And when she wanted to turn her toes out she tripped and fell on her nose.

[Moral:] Do not tell others how to act unless you can set a good example.

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Those who can, do; those who can't, teach

This is a fairly well-known idiom. Usually it's used to mean that a teacher doesn't really know what they're talking about (i.e. that their teaching is at least somewhat bogus).

Using it to call someone out on their ability to do the thing in question is closer to the literal meaning. It's only consistent with the idiomatic meaning if you think they're actually wrong, not just annoying.

Still, if they're taking the time to "teach" you something, you could use it anyway. It's a well known phrase, and they will know exactly what you're trying to call them out on.

Downsides

  • It's a logical fallacy. For some things, you can teach something without being able to do it very well. (e.g. sports coaches know what good technique looks like, and can demonstrate at low speed even if they can't do it well themselves.) Most good teachers are good at the thing they teach, but not all. (And the reverse is certainly not true: some people are good at what they do, but bad at teaching.)
  • It's also a false assumption that people don't do and teach. e.g. some of the music / theatre teachers at the musical theatre performance program my brother completed took a semester off to be in a professional production of a musical. University professors in all disciplines teach classes and do research, even the ones doing world-class cutting-edge research. In real life there are bad teachers, and ones with wrong ideas about the subject they teach, but this idiom implies that all teachers are bad.
  • It's rude in general to teachers of all sorts. If you don't want to promote a negative opinion of teachers, don't use this idiom in public.
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    I don't think this phrase means teachers don't know what they're talking about, rather that they can't apply any of their knowledge in the real world. It contrasts them with people who can 'do': teachers can't 'do', even though they may be knowledgable. It's a nasty, disparaging thing to say about teachers and the profession. – Pete855217 Aug 22 '16 at 10:47
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    And those who can't teach, manage. – Crowley Aug 22 '16 at 10:58
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Something similar is expressed in

  • You're no one to talk.
  • You're a fine one to talk.
  • You're one to talk.
  • Who are you to talk!
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i reckon a better fit is to tell the speaker “you are all talk and no trousers”. this is a variant on “all talk and no action” but to my mind speaks also to inability as well as inaction.

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  • This does not address the issue of " people who criticize the incompetence of others, yet are not competent themselves." – Cascabel May 26 '19 at 16:11

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