I know there is a similar idiom in English and in other languages like Chinese languages, but I can't remember the exact idiom.

It's something like "if you keep calling an elephant a mouse, it might start thinking it's a mouse."

The meaning is if you keep telling a person they're stupid, one day they might actually believe it and think they're stupid.

Please help.

  • What was the meaning of the idiom? – Decapitated Soul May 25 '20 at 9:17
  • I can't find any idiom in particular, but I did find quotes attributed to various political figures, including Lenin, all versions of "A lie told often enough becomes the truth". I also found a thread on another StackExchange site called "[Skeptics]" (skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/32926/…). – Isabel Archer May 25 '20 at 9:17
  • @DecapitatedSoul if you keep telling a person they're stupid, one day they might actually believe it and think they're stupid. Something like that. – Nergüi May 25 '20 at 9:28
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    One phrase is "Give a dog a bad name..." See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Give_a_dog_a_bad_name_and_hang_him. In British English at least, the second half of the sentence is rarely used. – Greybeard May 25 '20 at 9:34
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    In education a similar phenomenon is called a self-fulfilling prophecy: "In a self-fulfilling prophecy an individual’s expectations about another person or entity eventually result in the other person or entity acting in ways that confirm the expectations." britannica.com/topic/self-fulfilling-prophecy – Shoe May 25 '20 at 9:39

In sociology, the phenomenon described is referred to as the "Thomas theorem". Even though it may not pass as an idiom per se, its originators Thomas and Thomas summarize the theorem like this:

"If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences"

(The child in America: Behavior problems and programs. W.I. Thomas and D.S. Thomas. New York: Knopf, 1928: 571–572)


In education circles, it's called Pygmalion effect.

Pygmalion effect: The Pygmalion effect, or Rosenthal effect, is the phenomenon whereby others' expectations of a target person affect the target person's performance.



Although it is not a proverb in English but it still has the same idea.

"A lie repeated a thousand times becomes truth."
“Repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth”

Is a law of propaganda often attributed to the Nazi Joseph Goebbels.

One article interesting about it. https://lifehacker.com/convince-someone-that-your-dumb-idea-is-true-by-simply-1788286142

  • It's possibly a 'pre-proverb'; it's a good quote (from an atrocious source). Repeat a pre-proverb a million times and it becomes a proverb. But it's more general than OP requests. Guns are better than butter Honest. Until you bite the bullet. – Edwin Ashworth May 25 '20 at 14:28

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