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I want a fun and playful retort to use against someone who says "The squeaky wheel gets the grease", which, according to the so-named Wikipedia1 article means:

The squeaky wheel gets the grease is an American proverb used to convey the idea that the most noticeable (or loudest) problems are the ones most likely to get attention. It is alternately expressed as "The squeaky wheel gets the oil"

For example, if Alice warns her colleague Bob to tone down his criticism about the working conditions, then Bob might reply "The squeaky wheel gets the grease" to suggest that the criticism is necessary to see their problems solved.

What phrase, expression or possibly even slang terminology could Alice use in response to Bob to warn him that his approach may very well backfire?


1 The excerpted Wikipedia text is licensed under CC-BY-SA 3.0 terms terms and conditions.

  • Could you give a context where you would use this? – dwjohnston May 30 at 4:09

16 Answers 16

38

One proverb that came to mind is

The nail that sticks up gets hammered down.

Doing a web search, I found that apparently it has a Japanese origin, but I think it's common, or at the very least understandable, in English.

I also found an English.SE thread about the phrase, in which ps.w.g offers the phrase

The squeaky wheel gets replaced.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – tchrist Jul 6 at 15:38
47

I've always countered with "the quacking duck gets shot".

  • 1
    This, combined with @rosslh's explanation. "If you complain, someone might fix it for you!" "If you complain, people might get annoyed and fix that last" – Mars May 30 at 4:13
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    Similar: "The early bird gets the worm" <--> "The early worm gets eaten by the bird" – Carl Witthoft May 30 at 15:34
  • This is similar to "The squeaky wheel gets the grease", not the opposite. – RonJohn Jun 1 at 3:30
  • @RonJohn: What are you talking about? “The squeaky wheel gets the grease” says that the person who complains gets rewarded.  “The quacking duck gets shot” says that the person who complains gets punished. – Scott Jun 1 at 21:03
34

Insofar as "the squeaky wheel gets the grease" is saying that people who complain get attention, I think this expression means roughly the opposite:

Good things come to those who wait

  • 2
    I find this the best answer. You have described the original phrase, with the important issues of complaint and attention. "Silence is Golden" can have a connotation of not complaining, but your phrase expresses the opposite of the OP's phrase. "Good things come to those who wait," has a connotation of having a possible reason to complain but choosing not to. Bravo. – bballdave025 May 30 at 0:19
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    Using quantificational logic, SW ==> Grease is the original statement. Your statement is roughly ( !SW) == > Grease , which does not preclude SW==>Grease being true as well! Think Venn diagrams - maybe you get Grease regardless of squeakiness. I would say the OP is looking more for SW ==>( !Grease) , a contradiction of the original, for which 'nail sticks up gets hammered' is closer. – Carl Witthoft May 30 at 12:51
  • @CarlWitthoft One could argue that a stuck up nail getting hammered is actually just a direct analogy, instead of a negation. Presumably, being nailed in is actually the desired state of a nail; so a squeaky wheel getting grease is actually equivalent to a stuck up nail getting hammered down. I see no reason that a stuck-up nail is a desirable quality, the same as a squeaky wheel. – JMac May 30 at 14:50
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A fun/playful answer to "The squeaky wheel gets the grease" might be "It's better to be silent and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and prove it"

There are many versions of the "remain silent" saying. Some of them are documented by Quote Investigator.

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    The typical phrasing replaces "prove it" with "remove all doubt." – jpmc26 May 31 at 10:30
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    Or also "Si tacuisses, philosophus mansisses.", which means "Had you stayed silent, you'd remain a philosopher.", philosopher here is used to imply "thoughtful". – Tomáš Zato May 31 at 14:24
10

Well, as true as that may be, sometimes Silence is Golden1:

  1. Often the best choice is to say nothing.
    1897, Horatio Alger, Walter Sherwood's Probation, ch. 2:
    "But I have spoken long enough. There are times when silence is golden, and one of those times is at hand."

Both grease and gold have their uses, but more people would rather have gold than most other things if given the choice, and probably most notably including gunky grease. This is why things are often described as being worth their weight in gold1, which is defined as "(idiomatic) Very valuable". Hopefully for what the words lack in literal weight, the wisdom of them up for by weighing greatly upon the mind.

I am tempted to explain in more detail, but going on too long would really run the risk of hypocrisy, per the following example from The Proverbs of Chaucer with Illustrations from Other Sources as found in Scotish Notes and Quiries, volume 6 no. 10 (march 1893):

The preacher has said that there is "a time to keep silence and a time to speak," and this counsel has passed into many a proverb. Speech in season, and a discrete silence when necessary are virtues which all commend but few find easy to practise. It has been said that Carlyle has taught us in thirty-seven volumes that Silence is golden. None has preached the value of silence more eloquently; none ever found it harder to put into practice what he preached. Let us look at a few of the proverbs bearing on this subject as we find them in Chaucer:

For this reason I am going to hold my tongue and let the worth of the phrase prove itself.


1 Definitions referenced excerpted from Wiktionary, which licenses its text under CC-BY-SA 3.0 terms.

10

I don't believe this is a common phrase, but I like to use "Squeaky mouse gets the cat" because of the identical beginning.

10

I've always liked: "Empty Wagons make the most noise."

I like this because, often times, the person who says "Squeaky Wheels get the grease" are usually whining just to get what they want. Which, to me, is inappropriate.

The phrase "Empty Wagons make the most noise" is a way of saying they have no brains and aren't creative enough to find another solution other than whining all the time.

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    This is similar to the Aramaic "Istra Be-Lagina - 'qish-qish' qarya" - A coin in an empty jug calls out. – einpoklum May 31 at 16:34
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    An empty wagon moreover insinuates that someone isn't actually doing any work. – AdamO May 31 at 21:50
  • Of course this invites the counter-counter-point: well-maintained wagons can carry a greater load. My wagon wouldn’t be empty if its wheels were properly lubricated. – Scott Jun 1 at 20:39
  • Yes, but most of the "Squeaky Wheels" don't get that. – Scottie H Jun 2 at 21:10
  • Yes, AdamO, That is exactly the point. – Scottie H Jun 2 at 21:10
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You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.

As Wiktionary defines this saying:

It is easier to persuade others with polite requests and a positive attitude rather than with rude demands and negativity.

5

My response is always 'If the grease doesn't work then the wheel gets replaced'.

We're looking for long answers that provide some explanation and context. Don't just give a one-line answer; explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations. Answers that don't include explanations may be removed.

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    Someone once said to me, "The squeaky wheel gets the grease." I replied, "or replaced." – Dave D May 31 at 16:20
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Retort it with

empty vessels make the most sound

Foolish, unwise, or stupid people are the most talkative.

idioms.freedictionary.com

1

More usually told to children than adults: " 'I want' never gets."

Roughly meaning that those who repeatedly say "I want this... , I want that ..." will be ignored in favour of more polite people.

1

I remember seeing a demotivational poster online long ago that fits, it went:

"The Tallest Blade of Grass is the First To Get Cut"

  • This is just a variation on a "Tall Poppy" or cutting successful people down to size - it has nothing to do with complaining. – Chappo Jun 1 at 0:48
0

Where I grew up, people said "those who ask don't get". But I don't know if that's used anywhere else.

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    Well - where did you grow up? i.e. what country / region are you referring to? As a Brit, I recognise that phrase. – TrevorD Jun 4 at 23:07
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There's a saying in my tongue: the baby cries when the mother takes the breast away.

It's an interesting counter. If "squeaky wheel gets the grease" reflects the thought that complaining is the way to get what you want, most other answers aim to counter by claiming complaining will not get you what you want or worse. My answer says the complaining is an effect, not a cause, and you're being instructed on how to grow up and behave.

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The correct phrase, a common English phrase which is the opposite of the one you gave:

"Closed mouths don't get fed."

Your statement says that a person who expresses their need or complaint has a better chance of getting their need met than someone who doesn't. This statement here says that a person who does not express their need or complaint will not get their need met.

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    This proverb agrees with the original one — it doesn’t counter it, as the original poster is looking for! – PLL May 30 at 22:21
  • It doesn't agree; it's the other side of the same coin. The edge of that coin might be called, It never hurts to ask (which is ambiguous). I would twist another proverb to suit the OP: The meek SHALL NOT inherit the Earth. – Mazura May 31 at 1:30
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In Australia we often talk about the "tall poppy syndrome". Here we are regarded as having an egalitarian outlook and tend to want to pull down those that either reached higher status (possibly illegitmately) or being too prominent and outspoken. So when someone gets remonstrated for stepping out of line, or sticking their neck out (yet more metaphors) they might declare they have been a "tall poppy" cut down by the community.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tall_poppy_syndrome

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    The context of tall poppy syndrome is completely different from complaining. A tall poppy is someone who has achieved significantly more than the average (high status). A complainant is low status. They won't be seen as high status, so this phrase is not a good counterpoint to the OP's phrase. – CJ Dennis Jun 1 at 0:31

protected by Laurel May 31 at 23:53

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