There's a well-known proverb in Persian, which, translated literally, goes like this:

Where there's fire, wet and dry burn together.
The original being ".وقتی آتش موجود باشد) تر و خشک با هم می سوزند)"

In a large forest fire, both dry wood that can be ignited easily and wet wood that's hard to burn, burn. A good example of a context it's used in would be a principal punishing a whole class because of what few perpetrators did — so students that didn't deserve to be punished, (that is, the wet) burned alongside the ones that did. (that is, the dry)

Is there a proverb that would express the same thing in English? More specifically, is there a proverb that would convey the innocent receiving undeserved punishment?

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – tchrist
    Commented Apr 11, 2017 at 18:50
  • Can you clarify if the emphasis in the proverb is on "burn", or on "together"? For example, if they burned separately (or in your example, if the the perpetrators were punished separately/differently but everyone was still punished), would the proverb still apply? It's actually not clear to me in Farsi either; the version I was familiar with omitted the "Where there's fire" part, so to me the emphasis to me was on "together", whereas in your version, the emphasis is on "burn" (as opposed to "not burn").
    – user541686
    Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 6:30
  • @Mehrdad I would think the emphasis is indeed on "together". The surprising thing here, anecdotally, is that good/neutral people were punished, not just criminals.
    – M.A.R.
    Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 9:41
  • 6
    Just noting that the same proverb exists in Greek (τα χλωρα καιγονται με τα ξερα). Word for word it reads: The green/verdant are burned along with the brown/dry. The meaning is that the innocent often pay along with the guilty.
    – Thanassis
    Commented Apr 15, 2017 at 9:39
  • I guess you are ignoring to mention the fact that this is a reference to a wildland fire while the wet refers to trees that are still wet and live and trees that are dead dry.
    – Reactor4
    Commented Aug 9, 2017 at 23:12

21 Answers 21


I really like the Persian proverb and see no reason why you couldn't use it in English conversation, although it may require some explanation. However, you could also use a phrase such as the Biblical proverb from Matthew 5:45:

The rain falls on the just and the unjust.

I believe the meaning is quite similar to the example you gave, since both the "just and the unjust" have the same treatment.

  • 55
    Comments aren't answers—and they don't pretend to be. You cited the source of the expression (which I did not) and you turned the suggestion of the expression (which you arrived at independently in any case) into a legitimate answer. More power to you!
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented Apr 10, 2017 at 22:27
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    I though the rain represented good things in that quote? Commented Apr 11, 2017 at 13:14
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    @PyRulez There's an actual academic argument about that (because of course there is). From wikipedia: Schweizer notes that in Palestine rain was extremely important and beneficial, the hot sun, was less so. He notes that in Greece at this time the burning power of the sun was often a symbol of godly power while the rain was a symbol of godly benevolence. By contrast in wetter and more northern societies, rain is often viewed as unpleasant.[2] Most scholars feel that in this verse both rain and sun are meant to be positive.
    – xDaizu
    Commented Apr 11, 2017 at 13:31
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    The rain it raineth on the just And also on the unjust fella; But chiefly on the just, because The unjust hath the just’s umbrella.
    – mikeagg
    Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 10:31
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    @xDaizu Please don’t misuse code formatting (backticks, four-space paragraph indents, pre tags) for non-code text. For quotes, we have box quotes in answers, and quotation marks work everywhere. The code formatting is semantic, telling the computer that the text is code—your browser might render that as monospace font with a gray background, but that is not its primary purpose. And alternative technologies like screen readers for the blind have to do something else communicate code to their users, which can make the text hard to understand (reading letter-by-letter is not unheard of).
    – KRyan
    Commented Apr 13, 2017 at 14:08

One expression, which conveys the sense of consequences applying to everyone regardless of whether or not you feel they deserve it, is

A rising tide lifts all boats

This is often used in US political speech where a politician tries to justify a policy by claiming its benefits will help everyone. Because of this use, someone hearing this phrase may react unfavourably, either because of its connotation with politics or because it's usually not true in cases where it's used.

Another problem is that this is more of a positive statement (all boats being lifted is seen as a good thing) rather than a negative (all wood burning). You can't really use this statement in exactly the same way. I feel that there must be a better, negative, equivalent, but I can't recall it.

  • 18
    You could invert the well-known expression to be more negative: something like "All boats get stranded when the tide goes out".
    – nigel222
    Commented Apr 11, 2017 at 15:00
  • +1 for pointing out the distinction between the English phrase and the Persian and for taking note of the instinctive suspicion that's developed around the phrase, whether from conservatives who believe greater government spending and social programs increase political corruption and deincentivize hard work or from liberals who believe assistance to the wealthy should not be a priority of government policy.
    – lly
    Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 0:40
  • You're right about the situation being the same, though, in a way that babies & bathwater isn't.
    – lly
    Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 0:42
  • @nigel222 "A falling tide strands all boats"?
    – wizzwizz4
    Commented Apr 14, 2017 at 16:50
  • No, the phrase I've heard is "When the tide goes out, you can see who's been swimming without a bathing suit."
    – michelle
    Commented Apr 15, 2017 at 1:52

Mr Shiny and New already offered one nautical idiom, but I might suggest

"We're all in the same boat"

as a closer match to your proverb.

The meaning is that whatever happens to the "boat" will affect everyone aboard.

Cambridge Dictionary defines this idiom as:

to be in the same unpleasant situation as other people

  • 1
    Oops, I see @ColleenV already had this one in a comment.
    – bjmc
    Commented Apr 10, 2017 at 22:06
  • 13
    No Oops about it. Comments aren't answers and answers should be posted as answers.
    – terdon
    Commented Apr 11, 2017 at 8:12
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    But it is nice to give credit where credit's due :). Commented Apr 11, 2017 at 9:07
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    To me, this idiom implies a sense of cooperation; that "we" are being reminded/persuaded that we ought to all work together because the outcome naturally affects everyone. And so I don't think it quite applies to the original example - innocent students shouldn't be punished along with the perpetrators, and should not expect beforehand that they're "all in the same boat". I can imagine however that the perpetrators might use this idiom if they're trying to persuade other students to cover for them! Commented Apr 11, 2017 at 9:11
  • 1
    This one is common in french too "Nous sommes tous dans le même bateau".
    – aloisdg
    Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 13:36

Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater.

captures the sense that there's a collection of stuff (babies, water) and throwing it all all out includes unfortunately the false positives, the babies. This is similar to the wet wood burning, which normally wouldn't but because of it's inclusion with dry also burns.

  • 24
    'Babies and bathwater' is more about cutting off your nose to spite your face, or discarding something of value along with the stuff you're trying to get rid of than the sense that we're all the in same boat and so whatever happens to one of us affects us all.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Apr 10, 2017 at 19:58
  • 1
    @ColleenV I agree about the 'discarding' idea (the different proverbs assume different intentions). But I don't agree about 'spite', which is more like a Pyrrhic victory than a false positive. False positive connects the baby/bathwater metaphor with dry/wet wood.
    – Mitch
    Commented Apr 10, 2017 at 20:04
  • 2
    ...but 'babies and bathwater' does also imply that the 'baby' being endangered was the entire reason for the action in the first place (washing the 'baby' is how the 'bathwater' was generated) in a way that doesn't really fit the Persian proverb's caught-in-the-same-net spirit.
    – lly
    Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 0:29
  • 2
    There's a sense of absurdly wasted effort (Colleen's point) in the English proverb that isn't there in the unjustly included focus of the Persian one.
    – lly
    Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 0:33
  • 1
    I disagree with this answer. "Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater" is advice, whereas "Where there's fire, wet and dry burn together" is commentary on what has happened. "The baby was thrown out with the bathwater" seems to be what is needed, except that this isn't a proverb. Commented Apr 13, 2017 at 16:54

Since no one else mentioned it yet

A rotten apple spoils the bunch,

from Late Latin pomum compunctum cito corrumpit sibi iunctum ('A rotted apple swiftly spoils its neighbor'), is the go-to adage in English for part of what the Persian quote is getting at.

It couldn't be used by an authority to justify the imposition of collective punishment, but something like He's a rotten apple or They're all rotten apples would be used by an English speaker warning another that hanging around that lot will bring nothing but trouble.

  • was totally going to add this when I was scrolling down and didn't see it. I know the expression as "one bad apple spoils the basket" but same difference.
    – jhocking
    Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 19:11
  • 2
    Odd. Google autocomplete agrees with me but there's at least one guy in Florida who knows your version. Google Ngram seems to think we all say 'a bad apple spoils the barrel' but that's nuts.
    – lly
    Commented Apr 13, 2017 at 12:06
  • Good, but more like corruption of the good because of only a small presence of the bad.
    – user39425
    Commented Apr 14, 2017 at 20:48
  • As mentioned, yeah.
    – lly
    Commented Apr 14, 2017 at 23:06

Because I had included this reference and a few other observations in three comments that have since been sifted onto chat. I've bundled them together and created a community wiki post.

  • In Wikipedia there is a page dedicated to collective punishment. Not an exact fit, but the idea of innocent lives paying for the acts of a few is clear.

Collective punishment is a form of retaliation whereby a suspected perpetrator's family members, friends, acquaintances, sect, neighbors or entire ethnic group is targeted. The punished group may often have no direct association with the other individuals or groups, or direct control over their actions

  • An idiom that struck me as being relevant at the time:

tarred with the same brush
If some people in a group behave badly and if people then wrongly think that all of the group is equally bad, you can say that the whole group is tarred with the same brush.

  • And last but not least, as someone else observed, it is very difficult that wet wood burns in a fire. May I suggest that the idiom is really referring to green wood, it also happens to be the literal translation of the Italian expression legna verde. I was pleasantly surprised to find it had some validity in English, as I had reckoned it was called freshly cut wood/timber. Wikipedia, as always, has a page dedicated to it.

Green wood is wood that has been recently cut and therefore has not had an opportunity to season (dry) by evaporation of the internal moisture. Green wood contains more moisture than seasoned wood, which has been dried through passage of time or by forced drying in kilns. Green wood is considered to have 100% moisture content relative to air-dried or seasoned wood which is considered to be 20%.

  • 3
    Yeah, tarred with the same brush is yet another complaint (after the fact) about collective punishment but it is the exact same situation as the Persian proverb. Good catch.
    – lly
    Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 12:36
  • 1
    As far as green wood being what's intended, you're almost certainly right since it's unlikely that spotty rainfall is what's being described. That said, if he's calquing this into English from Persian instead of translating it, it's going to be better to hew closer to the original wording. Besides, wet is understandable enough; it contrasts more cleanly with dry; and I'm not sure urban English-speakers really know what 'green wood' means. I'd imagine most think it's talking about summer foliage.
    – lly
    Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 12:40

This reminds me of a quote from the movie The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002). It is spoken by the character Eowyn:

Those without swords can still die upon them.

In a time of war, every innocent villager fears for their life, not just the fighters.

  • 1
    It paints the student/teacher dynamic as rather more adversarial than one would like, but I guess it fits the situation when collective punishment is involved.
    – lly
    Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 1:08
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    This is actually almost a direct quote from the sixth book. The book reads "... those who have not swords can still die upon them."
    – Michael
    Commented Apr 13, 2017 at 9:22

Interestingly, in Greek we have the reverse proverb:

For the Basil plant's sake, the pot gets watered too.

(i.e. someone more deserving receiving good things can also benefit the undeserving who are associated with them).

  • 2
    Interesting that the basil is named for the Greek word for king, making its special treatment more understandable. That does seem to be an exact reverse of the Persian proverb. Thanks for sharing!
    – lly
    Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 1:50
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    I think Greek have the actual proverb: "μαζί με τα ξερά καίγονται και τα χλωρά".
    – tgogos
    Commented Apr 17, 2017 at 15:35
  • @tgogos nice, I did not know we have the exact same proverb! Commented Apr 17, 2017 at 16:20

The proverb is somewhat along the same lines of the following widely quoted series of lines from a popular play (with the pithy version of a shorter quotation in bold):

“William Roper: “So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!”

Sir Thomas More: “Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?”

William Roper: “Yes, I'd cut down every law in England to do that!”

Sir Thomas More: “Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned 'round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man's laws, not God's! And if you cut them down, and you're just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake!”

― Robert Bolt, A Man for All Seasons (1966)

Another phase along the same lines is:

"Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius." was allegedly spoken by Papal legate and Cistercian abbot Arnaud Amalric prior to the massacre at Béziers, the first major military action of the Albigensian Crusade. A direct translation of the Latin phrase would be "Kill them. For the Lord knows those that are His own." Less formal English translations have given rise to variants such as "Kill them all; let God sort them out."

  • I don't think 'the laws all being flat' was the pithy part or ever became widely quoted. The popular bit was about England's 'being planted thick with laws' and 'the winds that would blow then'. Again, an ironic answer in that it negates or offers a reposte to the the mindset of the Persian proverb.
    – lly
    Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 1:55
  • 4
    That said, upvote for the legatine quote complete with Latin and strict and popular translations. It's close to the mindset of the Persian authority here.
    – lly
    Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 1:57

A slight modification of the English idiom "When the shit hits the fan" would serve this purpose well. Add an ending like "everyone gets spattered". The end result is a considerably cruder phrase than the original, but it gets the point across.

Also, you might be able to do something with the phrase "across the board." When something happens "across the board," it happens to everything or everyone. Sales tax causes higher prices across the board, i.e. raises the price on all goods.

  • 1
    Depending on the timing, the more common variants The shit is going to hit the fan, The shit has just hit the fan, and The shit had hit the fan could describe the situation mentioned by the Persian proverb.
    – lly
    Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 1:34
  • 1
    Sorry your answer didn't get more upvotes. It's crude, but it is a one-to-one match for @M.A.R.'s question. (Across the board isn't usually employed for collective punishment, though.)
    – lly
    Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 1:35

Ok, this isn't English but it's been interesting to me how many of the English expressions specifically condemn the treatment that the Persian adage takes for granted. China has very long-standing and famous examples of collective punishment, so I was curious about what adages its people might have.

My Chinese friend offered the first one that came to her mind:


Yi ke laoshu shi, huai le yi guo zhou.

A single piece of mouse shit ruins the congee.

Apparently, this earthy chestnut is shared with children to remind them not to let the bad apples get them into trouble.

  • 2
    I would really like to change mouse to moose
    – mungflesh
    Commented Apr 13, 2017 at 11:34

While not an English proverb, this one is from a video game that I personally find quite nice:

Moonlight shines upon the guilty and the innocent alike.

  • 5
    I think this is playing on the terminology of Matthew 5:45 KJV 'he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust'
    – Spagirl
    Commented Apr 11, 2017 at 14:46
  • 1
    The Biblical proverb is about the benevolence of G-d to all people. What's the moonlight doing in context? Showing both the innocent and the guilty to the authorities? If so, it's actually a better fit to the Persian proverbs, though about discovering culprits instead of punishing them.
    – lly
    Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 1:11
  • @lly Interesting! Yeah, this is from night-elves in "Warcraft" which you might have heard of? They worship a moon deity which is both peace loving and also obsessed with justice. I used to see this quote as a statement of the moon god's mercy upon everyone, but it actually also plays nicely with the interpretation that you suggested: The light of the moon is a beacon at night for those who need it, be it for travelling at night or perhaps thieving. It also reveals these people for other people to see them and help them, or in the case of ill intention, catch them redhanded
    – ShS
    Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 11:38

In Czech we have a proverb which translates as

When the forest is cut down, splinters fly all around.

It means when something big happens (war, political change, massive police action, massive business decision, ...) then it falls hard not only on the intended target (the forest) but, as it is so widespread, it also negatively affects a lot of innocent people (via the splinters), with the unspoken understanding that such collateral damage is unavoidable in similar grave situations.

Conversely, it is also used for somebody pursuing some sort of agenda without considering the results of their words or actions. In debate, such a person places greater emphasis on the big case (cutting the forest down) and accepts the collateral and sad consequences as the unintended but acceptable price for their agenda. Opponents place emphasis on the collateral damage (the splinters) whose the consequences will affect many innocent targets and they argue that the good parts of the agenda are not worth paying such a heavy sacrifice.

(For more clarity and connotation — a lot of places for planting food were obtained by cutting down forests, and it was good as it allowed people to grow food by themselves. Also in order to build houses, bridges, etc. a lot of wood was needed for material. Splinters were considered worthless, making the work harder.)

So one side talks about good things, which may create some problems but such problems should be ignored. Their opponents are going around like 'Your "collaterals" are living people and you write living people down like trash'.

Maybe there is something similar in English too.

  • 1
    I don't think the Persian fire is seen as a good thing at all, but thanks for the treatment of the Czech proverb.
    – lly
    Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 1:44

Not a proverb, but an actual quote.

During the Albigensian Crusade (a fun little Christian-on-Christian tussle back in the 1200's, when people took their religion seriously) the city of Beziers in the Languedoc was to be beseiged to force them to hand over the heretics who had sheltered there (Cathars, if you must know. Their heresy was that they believed there were two Gods, the Good one of the New Testament and heaven, and the Bad one of the Old Testament and Earth. Now there is a good reason for slaughtering thousands, wouldn't you say?). Before the official siege could begin, some of the beseiger's camp followers managed to overwhelm the defenses of the city and slaughtered the inhabitants - men, women, and children, clergy and laity, noble and common - practically no one was spared. When a few survivors were brought before the papal legate, Arnaud Amalric, their captors asked "How do we tell the good Catholics from the bad Cathars?", to which the legate replied "Kill them all. God will know His own" (in Latin, "Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius").

Nowadays this is sometimes stated as "Kill 'em all; let God sort 'em out".

  • 1
    That summary is roughly like saying the Axis and Allies slaughtered each other for wearing different uniforms. Catharism was considerably more complex than that, and part of that complexity was that "kill them all" was not really a non-sequitur.
    – fectin
    Commented Apr 15, 2017 at 4:01

I think the essence of this metaphor is this, because in fact wet and dry do not always burn together:

  • when a fire is small, wet objects are protected from it. It's hard to start a fire with wet firewood, using wet matches and wet incendiary material such as paper. Wet and dry do not easily burn together.

  • when a big fire is blazing, everything burns; wetness doesn't afford protection because there is so much heat there that it doesn't matter. The water in some wet object is vaporized. Even materials not normally considered flammable will burn.

This is, I suspect, why the adage is about wet versus dry and fire: wet and dry are sometimes "equal" in the face of fire, and sometimes not: it depends on the magnitude of the fire.

This is a metaphor for small protective measures or insurances not working against sufficiently large calamities.

If the catastrophe is large enough, there is no difference between those who had some protective measure and those who didn't.

For instance if the whole economy totally collapses, someone with their money in a government-insured savings account (dry) is no better off than someone with a pile of cash under the bed at home (wet). The former person is protected in smaller situations, like just that particular bank going under.

There are numerous adages about the virtue of being prepared, but it's hard to find sayings that are about no amount of preparation being sufficient for a sufficiently bad calamity.

There are these:

  • Desperate times call for desperate measures. (In the sense that ordinary precautions, insurances or preparation measures are insufficient in very bad times.)

  • Even the best swimmers drown. This is seems like a close match: just like both wet and dry can burn, non-swimmers, average swimmers and good swimmers can all drown. But under good conditions (quiet waters in good weather with no tricky currents, or excessive time in the water), only those who cannot swim at all will drown: just like only dry, flammable materials will light ignite under a small fire. Variations on this are sayings like "good swimmers are often drowned" and "it's the strongest swimmers who drown" and others.

  • The latter person is also protected from that particular bank going under - or from all banks going under, so long as the money's still worth something.
    – wizzwizz4
    Commented Apr 14, 2017 at 17:00
  • @wizzwizz4 so long as the money's still worth something Yes, that's just it, ha.
    – Kaz
    Commented Apr 14, 2017 at 17:13
  • I guess it refers to the humid texture of trees that are still alive, and the dry-dead trees. The fire in this case refers to a fire in the forest.
    – Reactor4
    Commented Aug 9, 2017 at 23:09

Benjamin Franklin said "We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately."

...which sounds like your proverb about the wood, if WE are the WOOD in your proverb, and "burning" is a bad thing that we might suffer collectively.

Is the Persian proverb used as a warning, that WE will all burn, if YOU(the wet wood) don't go along with MY(the dry wood's) plan? You might be saying to yourself 'Well, I'm not the guilty one; I won't get the punishment.' But I'm warning you that if our company doesn't get this contract, or if our team doesn't win the game, you'll suffer just as much as me? Maybe this is similar.


Although the following suggestions aren’t proverbs, the general notion behind the Persian proverb in question reminds me:

of what one of fiery Coach Vince Lombardi’s players once said about him:

Seriously, Coach Lombardi is very fair. He treats us all like dogs.

(from Can You Say a Few Words?: How to Prepare and Deliver Award Presentations ..., by Joan Detz, via Google Books); ...

... and also of the more proverb-like title of the 6th track of Kings Among Runaways, an album by the band The Approach and the Execution:

The Plague Knows No Prejudice

(from the band’s Facebook page)


I would have thought something like this, whilst not a proverb it's a pretty common phrase:

If we go down, you come with us!


If we die, you die with us!

  • Do you have any references? Where's that phrase from? Commented Apr 11, 2017 at 17:59
  • Nope, it's just a pretty common phrase. Commented Apr 11, 2017 at 18:10
  • 2
    The version I'm more familiar with is, If I go down, I'm taking you with me or the same idea in the plural, If we go down, we're taking you with us.
    – lly
    Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 1:15
  • This is really just a more hostile take on @bjmc's We're all in the same boat and has the same problem. It's the same situation as the Persian proverb, but from the perspective of the bad apples trying to leverage it to enlist the good ones' cooperation against the authorities instead of from the perspective of the authorities or an outside voice of reason counseling the good students against associating with the bad ones or admonishing them for having done so.
    – lly
    Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 1:17
  • @marcellothearcane The phrase is very popular in American dramas, always in reference to shared legal liability or to blackmail that will be used if the speaker is brought to justice. The OED doesn't treat it as a separate phrase but it probably doesn't predate the sense (14) of to go down as "be sent to prison", which is first attested in 1906.
    – lly
    Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 1:31

The rain falls on the just and the unjust.

I didn't vote for this answer because 1. Frankly, I didn't expect this to be the most upvoted answer. 2. I wasn't really certain about the meaning of the Farsi proverb. But it seems (after a bit of googling) that my earlier suggestion; collective punishment, hit closer to home.

Rain is not a punishment, and according to several sources; here and here, it is normally a blessing, and all the more so in arid areas.

A comment posted by @xDaizu, contained the following citation:

This is one of the few New Testament verses that depicts God as commander of nature. Schweizer notes that in Palestine rain was extremely important and beneficial, the hot sun, was less so.

Although I am reminded of the flood narrated in Genesis, from the Old Testament

In Genesis 6:5-8, the LORD judged "man" for being wicked and evil.


The rain fell upon the earth for forty days and forty nights. ... Noah did not go into the ark till God bade him, though he knew it was to be his place of refuge. Genesis 7:12

The focus of the proverb is on the innocent who, through the fault of a few wrong doers, share and suffer the same penance unnecessarily. That is, the good (green/wet wood) burn alongside the bad (the dry wood). This may not be so tragic if you believe in the afterlife, but for the majority of Anglophones, and many devotees of the monotheistic Christian god (I'm going out on a limb here) this type of passivity and acceptance of God's will is no longer professed or tolerated.

  • 1
    With respect, shouldn't complaints about an answer just go as a comment under that answer? Further, the Christian and particularly English resistance to the fatalism and collective punishment inherent in the Persian proverb made this thread more interesting to me. I haven't seen a single match for the entire idea, even though it's a fairly simple and universal one. Its English equivalents so far are all condemnatory rather than descriptive.
    – lly
    Commented Apr 14, 2017 at 18:30
  • @lly I couldn't condense all this in a comment, it was too long. So it's a summary of my thoughts and not an answer, in the classic sense of the word, but it helps explain why there isn't an English idiom equivalent.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Apr 14, 2017 at 18:37
  • Oh, minor correction: The shit is going to hit the fan... actually is rather close, although the collective punishment aspect of it is more oblique.
    – lly
    Commented Apr 14, 2017 at 18:40
  • @lly I feel it's off target where the aspect of punishment is concerned, although it does imply everyone will be affected, indiscriminately. I suppose the Farsi proverb conveys a message of retaliation, whereas the N.Am one conveys a "Oh, oh. Now we (they) fucked it up" moment.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Apr 14, 2017 at 18:51
  • rain is a negative connotation in plenty of english idioms or popular phrases: rain on your parade, a hard rain's gonna fall, who will stop the rain?, when it rains it pours, rain drops keep falling on my head, save it for a rainy day. i think for a good number of native english speakers, rain falls on the just and unjust alike pretty accurately captures the spirit of the persian proverb.
    – mendota
    Commented Apr 15, 2017 at 19:10

I was very pleased to see the community here posted the ones about rain, apples, and babies. Those were some of my first picks. I find the baby one best because there is no confusion with corruption of the good, or acts of God.

For other sayings that convey collective punishment I suggest:

  • The sins of the few punish the many
  • The nuclear option

If you don't want to cast a negative shadow on collective punishment, then the "sins" option does that well. Instead, it puts the onus on the wrongdoers and even the rest of the community because everyone is responsible for everyone.

"The nuclear option" is meant to imply very large, sweeping destruction. The phrase has been around a while (but a relatively short period, as "nuclear" destruction is only 70 years old), but is recently overshadowed by a particular use in current US politics (but rather misapplied in my opinion, as the action is not really that big).


Though not quite the same, the closest saying in English I know of is from Thackeray's Barry Lyndon:

"Good or bad, handsome or ugly, rich or poor, they are all equal now."

  • The equality of mankind in death isn't really what the Persian proverb is going for, although I suppose it could be something someone says afterwards depending on how draconian the teacher turns out to be.
    – lly
    Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 1:46

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