I need a quote similar to "Eat the fish, spit the bones".

Basically, I want to convey this to someone - "Look, on the internet you'll find 1000s of articles explaining this topic. Not all will be useful, and some might be explaining this in a different context as well. Don't follow anyone blindly, gain the relevant information from them, but figure out which are not useful, and ignore them."

I need a more subtle version of "Eat the fish, spit the bones" since the other person is vegan and won't appreciate me using such quote even for conveying my point.

  • 9
    Unless you avoid See what I mean? when speaking to blind friends, you are using fish/bones figuratively and not as an affront. But watermelon and pits come to mind. Jun 26, 2023 at 13:08
  • 4
    I don't know if it's sufficiently idiomatic to be an [idiom-requests] but 'sort through the junk' or 'filter out the trash' feels closer than wheat from chaff
    – Kaia
    Jun 26, 2023 at 20:49
  • 6
    Just to note that Eat the fish, spit the bones — while clear — is not an idiom, at least not one that I have ever encountered. Are you looking for an established idiom to replace this phrase, or just a different metaphor? Jun 26, 2023 at 23:15
  • 7
    A sad day when language is restricted by veganism.
    – Greybeard
    Jun 27, 2023 at 14:49
  • 2
    @Elian I'm going to say no on that one. Jun 28, 2023 at 17:23

7 Answers 7


separate the wheat from the chaff

to judge which people or things in a group are bad and which ones are good

  • The magazine describes many different products and then separates the wheat from the chaff. (M-W)

FreeDictionary defines it as

To separate the good or valuable from that which is inferior.

  • With so many manuscripts arriving daily, it's a challenge to separate the wheat from the chaff and spot the really exceptional ones.
  • 1
    For some reason wheat from chaff doesn't feel like it fits with web spam, but I can't exactly tell why. The book example scans fine, but if I imagine saying something like, "You can find a lot of information about [for instance] buying a guitar online, but there's some bad advice, so be sure to separate the wheat from the chaff", it doesn't necessarily work in my head the way spit the bones does. I think it's still the best answer presented so far, though.
    – Kaia
    Jun 26, 2023 at 20:54
  • 2
    A related expression is to separate (or discern, distinguish, etc.) "signal" from "noise". Jun 27, 2023 at 9:21
  • This is the only established expression given so far. According to the OP trying to protect my rabbit ears (not antennae), this could be offensive or even incomprehensible to the gluten intolerant or those with Celiac. How would anyone understand such a food related metaphor?
    – livresque
    Jun 28, 2023 at 23:12
  • 1
    What happens if the OP's vegan friend is also gluten intolerant? ;-) Jun 29, 2023 at 8:58

Merriam Webster

separate the sheep from the goats (idiom) chiefly British

: to judge which people or things in a group are bad and which ones are good.

The magazine describes many different products and then separates the sheep from the goats.

An allusion to the Bible,

Matthew:25 31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

  • 1
    Don't let this be the sad day vegan things overtake English. Celiac sufferers will refute the top answer. Theologians don't like this one. Thank you for answering. I do not cotton to how my fellow plant based nuts refute a clear expression about clear metaphors, bones. Cake and I agree and it doesn't matter to this plant eater if Sheep Go to Heaven, Goats Go to Hell
    – livresque
    Jun 29, 2023 at 4:01

Eat the olive, spit the pit.

It's not any established idiom I'm aware of, but neither is your version with fish, and it's not clear you need one anyhow.

This also feels like it doesn't really fit your use case as described very well, but as a vegan equivalent to what you already have, one could hardly do better.

  • 2
    In British English, "pit" would be replaced by "stone". Jun 27, 2023 at 10:21
  • 2
    spit out the pit, not spit the pit.
    – Lambie
    Jun 27, 2023 at 14:47
  • 1
    Even better with some more alliteration, "eat the ..., spit out the pit(s)", but could not find the right one... Some possibilities: pear, grape, sorb, soursop, tomato... Peas don't have pit. :-(
    – Pablo H
    Jun 28, 2023 at 13:47

"Let the cream rise to the top" is a related phrase but perhaps an imperfect fit, implying that the best items should be identified by their self-evident qualities. It connotes the same idea of finding good items among many poor ones, but it implies that the items are in a way self-sorting. For example, the best players in a chess tournament will naturally rise to the top of the ranking. You don't need to actively evaluate everyone on your own, the best ones will naturally become evident over time.

This phrase could stand in contrast to "eat the fish, spit the bones" as a low-effort alternative - rather than painstakingly evaluating many search hits, to "eat the fish and spit the bones", you could just trust the search algorithm and "let the cream rise to the top" as the most useful items naturally tend to appear in the top hits. The notion that you're taking the best among many alternatives is the same, but the process for getting there may be different.

This doesn't help avoid non-vegan imagery, however.


Find the diamonds in the rough.

Find the needle in the haystack.

Both of these can imply searching through a pile of unwanted stuff to find the good stuff. The distinctions are subtle:

The diamonds one (which could also be just a singular diamond) often implies finding a qualified person (e.g. for a job) among a sea of inferior candidates, but it could also be used in reference to information such as an internet search.

The needle in a haystack one tends to imply that there is really only one good example to be found, which may not apply to the internet, as there are often many good sources. You could pluralize it to minimize that effect, "Find the needles in the haystack."

In both cases, the implication is that the bad content far outnumbers the good, which may or may not be intended.

Edit: The diamonds example may not be quite valid, per comments.

  • 3
    A "diamond in the rough" is something promising that lacks refinement. It refers to a singular item that could be improved, but it doesn't really connote the existence of many other poor-quality items. "In the rough" means "in a natural state" - "the rough" is the state the diamond is in, it doesn't refer to things it is found among. It is not a functional equivalent to "in the haystack". Finding a diamond in the rough is finding something that could be improved, not finding something that is very useful as it is. Jun 27, 2023 at 14:40
  • 1
    @NuclearHoagie Hmm, fair point, I'd also heard the "rough" interpreted as the worthless dirt around the diamond, similar to how it refers to the less desirable parts of a golf course. The needle in a haystack example is still valid though, particularly in its pluralized form. Jun 27, 2023 at 15:53
  • 1
    I think the haystack idiom rather emphasizes the quantitative disparity between the trash and the treasure, and might not fit well where most objects are "needles" with some part of most/some (useful) "needle" being (useless) "hay", that the recipient is encouraged to detach from the "needle" and discard, keeping and using the "needle(s)".
    – frIT
    Jun 28, 2023 at 7:28

Eat the sun flower seeds, spit out the shells. Totally vegan! Note: AFAIK, this is my own, but someone may have said it.

  • I had to click a "captcha" to enter this ... Jun 28, 2023 at 18:07

Perhaps something like "filter out the bullshit", "engage your bullshit filter" or "filter out the crap", with an explicit or implied "...and you'll find something worth reading"?

"Guff", "nonsense" or otherwise could be less pugnacious or inappropriate alternatives, but "bullshit" has the advantage that everybody's tastes will be offended more or less equally: it's always unfit for discerning consumption, even if you like hamburgers. And to my ear it doesn't imply that the stuff to be filtered out is necessarily wrong, so much as not worthy of attention (or the effort of engagement or refutation, perhaps). "Crap" may be slightly less forceful, and "BS" is a slightly more polite alternative where swearing explicitly might be frowned upon. (Or you could facetiously follow John Cleese in keeping up with the vegan zeitgeist with "parsnipshit").

A quick Google suggests it's quite a common idiom in relation to internet content: e.g. https://www.saashub.com/compare-stop-the-bullshit-vs-facebook-politics-filter-extension, https://thebullshitfilter.com/, https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Bullshit%20Filter or https://www.wired.com/2010/10/how-to-set-the-bullshit-filter-when-the-bullshit-is-thick/ . Another point of reference might be Harry Frankfurt's On Bullshit.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

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