What is the proverb for the expression "Do things in a passive way" or "playing safe"?

For instance, suppose, someone Mr X wants that Mr Y, and Mr Z both quits the job as he doesn't like either of them. So, he devises a strategy. He knows that Mr Y is in bad terms with Mr Z. So, he passively agitates Mr Y against Mr Z and vice versa. One day, either Mr Y or Mr Z loses his temper and hits the other one with a chair, and thereby both of them lose their jobs.

I think there is an English proverb for this.

  • What have you discovered from your own searches/research? For example, the first two resources in the Idioms, expressions and slang section of What good reference works on English are available? – Mark D Worthen PsyD Jul 25 '17 at 16:49
  • Are you sure you want a proverb? A proverb is generally something that offers advice, not just a phrase to describe an action or situation. – AffableAmbler Jul 25 '17 at 17:12

There is a phrasal verb "to play off against".

Mr. X played Mr. Y off against Mr. Z.

http://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/play+off+against, drawn from the McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs.


Not a proverb, but a good idiom to describe this behavior is pulling the strings.

to control the actions of a person or group, often secretly

So, you could say:

Sure, Mr. Z got himself fired but it was Mr. X pulling the strings.

The verb undermine, which literally means "to dig a hole underneath," would work well here too.

  • But in your example, Mr. Z succeeds in getting them fired. I'm confused. – AffableAmbler Jul 25 '17 at 17:39
  • Pullin Strings mean, making someone work like a pawn. – user20865 Jul 25 '17 at 17:57
  • 1
    Uh… Pulling the strings means making someone work like a puppet, anonymous; a string puppet or marionette. I was confused by your apparent comparison of doing things in a passive way to playing safe which first led to me to think your passive way might equate to sitting on the fence I don't think you'll find many another example where doing things in a passive way includes passively agitating anyone against another – Robbie Goodwin Jul 27 '17 at 16:18
  • I was mostly basing my answer on the example. – AffableAmbler Jul 27 '17 at 16:53

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy