There is a proverb in Arabic that literally means:

"the turtle quarreled with the lake"

It is used when "A" rejects a favor from "B" to hide his dependence on it, as a turtle's life depends on the lake.

For example, imagine a mom wants to give pocket money to her (~7 year old) son, but the son refuses to receive the money to show his independence by saying:

"I do not need your money anymore, I don't want anything from you."

Here mom might say:

"pfff.., the turtle quarreled with the lake"

Is there any proverb, phrase or idiom to convey this meaning in English?

  • 1
    I would add the to the translation, as in the turtle quarreled with the lake.
    – oerkelens
    Aug 23, 2016 at 12:58
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    Here's a list of possibly vulgar idioms for this: boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/archive/index.php/t-427331.html
    – NVZ
    Aug 23, 2016 at 13:03
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    HadiRj, you might want to take back your acceptance of my answer (at least temporarily). There might be more accurate phrases for what you're looking for, and some users will be discouraged from researching them if they see that an answer has already been accepted. Typically, experienced users suggest leaving questions open for at least a day to see what kind of answers they generate.
    – DyingIsFun
    Aug 23, 2016 at 13:15
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    In this phrase, is there any sense of resentment on the part of the turtle? Is the child somewhat angry at the parent, or are they just naively declaring their independence? Some of the answers offered here may be less fitting, depending on the emotions involved in the original.
    – user1359
    Aug 23, 2016 at 15:40
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    @user1359 yes the child is angry at the parent.
    – HadiRj
    Aug 24, 2016 at 3:31

7 Answers 7


"Bite the hand that feeds you" is a good option, but I think the spirit is conveyed better with:

Cut off your nose to spite your face

Meaning to inflict damage on yourself in order to hurt someone else. Typically the damage to you is far greater than to the other person.

As an example, let's say I get mad at the government and decide not to pay my taxes to "teach them a lesson". My missing money is a tiny drop in the government bucket, and its loss will hurt them far less than it will hurt me when I'm jailed for tax evasion.

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    This idiom suggests the subject is intentionally trying to to hurt or damage the object (e.g. the government). But in the case of the boy and his mother, he is likely not trying to intentionally upset her, although this might happen incidentally. Bite the hand seems superior in that is doesn't suggest intention; we could easily accidentally bite a hand that's feeding us, which might happen in the case of declaring independence from your mother and thereby upsetting her.
    – DyingIsFun
    Aug 23, 2016 at 14:42
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    @Silenus you might accidentally bite, but "accidental" is not what's conveyed in that saying. Aug 23, 2016 at 14:51
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    True, the conventional use of Don't bite the hand... means "Don't intentionally hurt the thing that's supporting you", but the semantic leeway of bite, which can be intentional or accidental, at least allows for the proverb's extension into a broader context, like the one involving the boy and his mother. It's more difficult to extend the use of Cut off your nose. I guess that was my point.
    – DyingIsFun
    Aug 23, 2016 at 14:55
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    Further to my comment in the question, I feel this is different because, for example, the turtle may quite easily find another lake or water source, whereas one only has one nose. I don't see that there's an implied hurt in the OP's idiom. Aug 24, 2016 at 4:34

A similar English phrase is Don't bite the hand that feeds you, defined as:

to treat someone badly who has helped you in some way, often someone who has provided you with money.

More generally, it advises one not to treat badly ("bite") the entity that is systematically helping one ("the hand that feeds you").

While it is true that the conventional use of Don't bite the hand... means "Don't intentionally hurt the thing that's supporting you", there is some semantic leeway in bite, since biting can be intentional or accidental. This leeway allows for the proverb's extension into broader contexts where the subject accidentally hurts a thing that's supporting it (for example, a boy declaring independence from his mother, and thereby accidentally upsetting her).

I think the idiom Cut off your nose to spite your face (suggested elsewhere) is harder to extend into these broader contexts, suggesting as it does intentionally cutting off your nose with the malicious intent of hurting your face.


Probably not as good as the other options, but how about "Don't look a gift horse in the mouth" or "Don't tilt at windmills"? For background on the former, see http://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/look+a+gift+horse+in+the+mouth:

  1. To be ungrateful to someone who gives you something; to treat someone who gives you a gift badly. (Usually with a negative.) McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs. © 2002 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
  2. To criticize or refuse to take something that has been offered to you. Etymology: based on the idea that you can discover a lot about a horse's condition by looking at its teeth. Cambridge Dictionary of American Idioms Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2003.
  3. If someone tells you not to look a gift horse in the mouth, they mean that you should not criticize or feel doubt about something good that has been offered to you. Cambridge Idioms Dictionary, 2nd ed. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2006. Reproduced with permission.
  4. Be critical or suspicious of something received at no cost. ("Don't look a gift horse in the mouth," has been traced to the writings of the 4th-century cleric, St. Jerome, and has appeared in English since about 1500. It alludes to determining the age of a horse by looking at its teeth. The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer. Copyright © 2003, 1997 by The Christine Ammer 1992 Trust. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
  5. To be critical or suspicious of something one has received without expense. American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition. Copyright © 2011 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
  • Gift horse in the mouth seems ideal to me - could you expand on this answer? Aug 23, 2016 at 15:38
  • @choster. Okay. Will add excerpt. Aug 23, 2016 at 21:35
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    I think this answer better represents the intent of the original proverb. +1 Aug 24, 2016 at 8:21
  • Tilting at Windmills link, for completeness
    – mcalex
    Jul 24, 2018 at 3:45

I can't think of an English cliche that fits perfectly, but such a person is too proud for charity. In order to accept the help they need, they would need to swallow their pride.

There are many English sayings related to denying how much you want something. In romance, you are playing hard to get, and in general, you are playing it cool. If you avoid a social event you might enjoy to signal that you're above it, you're too cool for school. In general, a person who makes decisions that promote a certain image of themselves, rather than decisions that fulfill their wants and needs, is living a lie.


Rosalind Fergusson, The Facts on File Dictionary of Proverbs (1983) has several relevant proverbs on the subject of pride:

Pride goes before, and shame follows after.

Pride and poverty are ill met, yet often seen together.

It is a proud horse that will not bear his own provender.

The mother in the OP's example might well consider any of these expressions an appropriate reply to her child, but I haven't heard any of them used in everyday English speech.

Fergusson also has this somewhat different proverb (which again I've never heard used in the wild):

The hog never looks up to him that threshes down the acorns.

The common thread here is ingratitude—although the hog certainly doesn't reject the acorns, as the child in the OP's post does the pocket money.

An expression that is used in situations where someone recklessly rejects a good offer or situation is

Sooner or later you'll come crawling back.

This expression most often arises when a person has rejected someone or something in the expectation of finding someone or something better.

  • Upvoted specifically for "you'll come crawling back" as that seems to capture the implied meaning of the original idiom. "You are rejecting my support/help/love now, later you will realize you need me and come back."
    – barbecue
    Aug 24, 2016 at 0:56
  • I think pride is the key here, but I feel the OP's idiom is more storytelling than advice-giving. Placing it in the 3rd person makes it perfect for placing a person in a minority whilst still allowing them to prove themselves. Aug 24, 2016 at 4:38

There is one that is similar, even if not quite identical, and that is "bite the hand that feeds you." The Free Dictionary describes it as: to severely criticize the person or organization that helps you or pays you.

For example:

Son: I do not need your money anymore, I don't want anything from you

Mom: pfff. You should not bite the hand that feeds you.

  • Eh, I don't think that is a good example of "bites the hand that feeds you." "Biting the hand that feeds you" applies more to something like criticizing your boss.
    – Chozang
    Aug 24, 2016 at 19:53

Also consider this phrase:

"It is folly to live in Rome and fight with the Pope!"

This conveys the message somewhat.

Google Books

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    This is an interesting suggestion, but it could be improved by explanation. Where does this proverb come from? Do proverb dictionaries define it?
    – DyingIsFun
    Aug 23, 2016 at 14:45
  • Welcome to ELU.SE. Taking the site tour will help you frame more acceptable answers. Your phrase is different from the proverb in the book you referenced; you may want to edit it. Still, I like the proverb in the book, and to me, this is the most appropriate one so far, so +1. Aug 24, 2016 at 14:03
  • Reminds me of the Tibetan saying, "Don't turn gods into demons."
    – Chozang
    Aug 24, 2016 at 19:55

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