What is a classic saying for a third party getting all the benefit while two others are fighting.

For example (from wikipedia): Two dogs fight for a bone, but a third one runs away with it.

  • This is reminiscent of the situation where Nash in 'A Beautiful Mind' suggests a cooperative aiming for the second (sentient) prize(s). But only one bone here, and hard to belittle. // There should be a proverb, say, covering the very feasible (and doubtless common) situation you describe. There must be. – Edwin Ashworth Oct 13 at 10:28
  • 1
    The metaphor as you state it is actually used, though the wording is not fixed. "If there was any doubt after last week's head-to-head between Clegg and Farage over who is winning the EU in/out debate, there can be absolutely no doubt this morning. But now we see the third dog entering the fray quietly hoping to run off with the bone in the form of David Cameron on the BBC this morning." [Jeff Taylor_The Economic Voice_Apr 3, 2014]. – Edwin Ashworth Oct 13 at 10:34
  • 1
    Andre Norton, in 'Scarface', seems to have coined When the lions fight, then do the wolves dine well with this meaning (a third party seizing an opportunity while the big boys are fighting). But it doesn't seem to have caught on yet. – Edwin Ashworth Oct 13 at 15:12
  • 1
    Do not put “please help” in titles. That is a request with no place in a title and will antagonize other users. – David Oct 13 at 19:21
  • 2

According to the [Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs][1], the moral is embodied in the story of the lion, the bear, and the fox, which is included in many post-medieval editions of Aesop's Fables.

Early reference: c 1386 Chaucer / Knight's Tale: "We strive as wide the hounds for the boon.... There cam a kyte, while that they were so wrothe, And baar awey the boon betwixe hem bothe.

Further references in 1534, 1639, etc.


I would say that the third party is an opportunist.

From Oxford:

a person who exploits circumstances to gain immediate advantage rather than being guided by consistent principles or plans.

"Most burglaries are committed by casual opportunists"

Your Answer

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

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.