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In Spanish, there's the expression ¡no escupas para arriba! (literally ‘don't spit upwards!’), which is used for example in counter-reprimanding or counter-criticizing purposes—although there are many contexts where it could be used. I don't think it's easy to give a definition but I think this description is good:

Original:

Se trata de una expresión de ámbito universal, como lo demuestra su presencia en otras lenguas, que funciona a modo de máxima admonitoria. En tal sentido, puede emplearse en distintas situaciones. Las más comunes sugieren y ponen en guardia a quienes se burlan o regocijan de la adversidad ajena; o bien a quien proclama temerariamente opiniones, juzga y critica a otros por sus errores. Todas ellas exhortan a ser cautos y no hablar más de la cuenta porque el infortunio puede recaer en quien se muestra despiadado con los demás, al poder verse arrastrado a una situación similar. Porque, como señala otro dicho antiguo, «la vida da muchas vueltas» y «nunca se puede decir de esta agua no beberé».

[...]Lo que carece de valor y se repudia (el «escupitajo»), se arroja contra quien es objeto de ultraje, aunque sin ser consciente de que «le puede caer a uno encima». Y esta interpretación asoma en un sustrato subliminal de la actitud de quien critica, habla mal de alguien, se burla o le denigra de algún modo.

[...]Una expresión cercana a esta es la que dice: «Lo que se siembra, se recoge»[...]; aunque esta frase puede tener un significado ambivalente [bueno o malo].

En última instancia, el significado profundo del refrán «no escupas para arriba porque te puede caer encima» [...] está ligado a una especie de principio retributivo universal que se expresa en que todo mal que provocamos, tarde o temprano, se nos vuelve en contra y nos retorna.

My translation:

It is an expression with universal scope, as is confirmed by its presence in other languages [English too?], which works as a maxim of admonishment. With this sense, it could be used in many situations. The most frequent warn and raise the guard from those which taunt or brag from the other's adversity; as well as from those who boldly proclaim opinions, judge and criticize others for their mistakes. All of them exhort to be cautious and to not speak more than necessary because misfortune could recur in those who are ruthless with the others since they could be ‘plunged’ in a similar situation. For, as it is stated by another old saying, «life has many turns» and «under no circumstance can be said: "from this water I shall not drink"»

What is despised, i. e., that which lacks value and is repudiated (the "spit"), is thrown towards who is the outrage target, although without being aware that "it may fall on the spitter's head". And this interpretation appears on a subliminal substratum in the attitude of those who criticize, speak ill of someone, mock or denigrate them in any manner.

An expression that is close to this one is the one which says: "What you sow, you reap"; although this sentence may have an ambivalent meaning [could be something either good or bad].

Ultimately, the authentic meaning of the saying "don't spit upwards because it may fall on you" is associated to a kind of universal retributive principle which expresses that all the harm we cause, sooner or later, will be turned against and come back to us.

As I understand, the author claims that the expression is universal so: Can I say ‘don't spit upwards!’? I found one expression which is ‘What goes around, comes around’; do you think that expression is an equivalent? Do you use it in the same context? If not, which expression is the first you think as an English equivalent when you read the paragraph?

APPENDIX Examples of usage

A: —Don't you think it's funny how X was kicked off from school just because he was caught up cheating in an exam? I bet his dad will lash him!
B: —¡No escupas para arriba! (i. e., it could also happen to you)

A: —B, I can't let you sit in my car. I'm intransigent with my principles and you know well that I don't allow any <put any ethnical group you'd like> in my car.
B: —¡No escupas para arriba! (i. e. someday you will ask me to take you in my car)

A: —I hate X's boy/girlfriend, (criticizing process...). I will ask them to not come to my house again
B: —¡No escupas para arriba! (i. e. who says that tomorrow they could not be your fiancé, too?)

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  • 4
    We (native BrE speakers over the age of majority) might say don't piss into the wind which seems like a close fit to don't spit upwards but doesn't really seem to fit your suggested examples of usage. Sep 11, 2023 at 8:38
  • 4
    @StuartF Yeah, what goes around comes around.
    – Lambie
    Sep 11, 2023 at 15:49
  • @StuartF Thanks. And the expression is not vulgar. It can be used either in formal of informal contexts
    – tac
    Sep 11, 2023 at 16:51
  • @HighPerformanceMark No, piss into the wind is used for describing a futile effort but the Spanish false friend doesn't convey this meaning
    – tac
    Sep 11, 2023 at 16:54
  • 1
    Singer Jim Croche wrote a song where the chorus is nothing but these sayings.
    – T.E.D.
    Sep 12, 2023 at 20:18

10 Answers 10

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There's the set expression 'Do not judge, lest you should be judged' (the sermon on the mount, Matthew 7:1, Berean Literal Bible; courtesy of BibleHub. But it's literal or very near-literal, not an idiom.

Related is the proverb

Sow the wind, reap the whirlwind,

this time obviously figurative and so an idiom. It is found in Hosea 8, verse 7. Israel’s past unrighteousness would result in a veritable storm of consequence [GotQuestions]. Though this seems to echo the original maxim, it's not confined to the malpractices of taunting / criticising maliciously mentioned in the title.

There is the similar expression

It may come back to bite you:

[It may] come back to bite [someone]

For a past [/present] situation, decision, [attitude, behaviour] ... to cause problems for one in the present/future.

  • His poor treatment of his employees might come back to bite him some day.

[Farlex Dictionary of Idioms]

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  • Thanks, I think ‘sow the wind reap the whirlwind’ is winning at the moment unless someone give more
    – tac
    Sep 11, 2023 at 16:56
  • The first is not the same register as the Spanish.
    – Lambie
    Sep 11, 2023 at 17:28
  • @Lambie register? You mean formality? In which sense are you saying that?
    – tac
    Sep 11, 2023 at 17:37
  • @tac Register is a translation and language analysis term.
    – Lambie
    Sep 11, 2023 at 17:45
  • @Lambie Oh, what a mystery! Sorry, I'm not qualified for this discussion. By the way, now I think the translation to Spanish for that would be: Tené cuidado, porque lo que sembrás lo cosechás. I think the three expressions are versatile enough to be considered good equivalents.
    – tac
    Sep 11, 2023 at 17:59
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I can think of nothing phrased as an instruction in the same way, but I think "what goes around, comes around" is a pretty good fit. The idea is that whatever badness you do to others will eventually pass through the system on some imaginary looping conveyor belt and come back around to affect you in the same way.

By the way, you might try putting some of the suggested expressions in quotes and googling them to see if people actually use them the way you have in mind.

12

I think "You reap what you sow" is a common phrase that has the meaning you requested.

You reap what you sow.

I believe it comes from the Bible, Galations 6:7 (KJV)

Galations 6:7 - Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.

The Cambridge Dictionary says

Reap What You Sow: (idiom) to experience the result, often a bad one, of something that you did in the past

1
  • English is chock full of Biblical proverbs and references like this. I'd be quite surprised to find out Spanish is not.
    – T.E.D.
    Sep 12, 2023 at 20:19
6

The expression "don't spit upwards" is not common in English; I don't think that I've ever heard it before. Although its meaning seems clear (perhaps that's why the author called it "universal"), I think that it would be helpful if you could clarify how it's used, because we have many sayings in English that can convey similar ideas.

We might warn you that what you say might "come back to haunt you". From M-W:

to cause problems for (someone) in the future

If you're criticizing someone in a way that might also be used to criticize you, then we might note that "people who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones". Also from M-W:

used to say that people who have faults should not criticize other people for having the same faults

If the figurative spitter actually deserves a loogie in the face, then that person might be said to have received his or her "come-uppance" or "just deserts". To avoid any pejorative meaning, you could use the verb "boomerang" or the noun "blowback" to describe a similar effect. (And yes, "what goes around comes around" is similar.)

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  • OP: The main purpose of this answer isn't to offer you an expression entirely equivalent to yours (although it would be great if one of my suggestions was close) but rather to demonstrate that the precise meaning isn't very clear. I'd be happy to edit if you can clarify a bit. Sep 11, 2023 at 4:25
  • I don't think there is a precise meaning of the expression. As i said, we use it in a very broad sense, and in many situations. It just means ‘everything can come back to you, so be careful with the things you say/do’. Your answer is good, but still I don't see clearly if there is an idiomatic equivalent expression. As I understood, the expression that I should use depends on the context
    – tac
    Sep 11, 2023 at 4:37
  • 1
    @tac Oh, I see. Yes, I've given you some options that could be used in different contexts, but I don't think that there's anything that's an exact equivalent. I'd be interested to see if someone else can find one, though! Sep 11, 2023 at 4:40
  • Don't spit upwards is not an expression in English, period. But that does not mean one cannot make it up....
    – Lambie
    Sep 11, 2023 at 15:48
  • @Lambie why so taxative? did you had a bad day?
    – tac
    Sep 11, 2023 at 19:26
5

A quite literal translation would be "don't piss against the wind", but its meaning doesn't correspond to the Spanish idiom.

A possible translation may be Don't insult the future that has not the optimistic connotation of "tomorrow is another day".

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  • In fact, it does work. Your explanation does not. You don't piss against the wind so it does not come back at you.
    – Lambie
    Sep 11, 2023 at 15:48
  • It’s not literal, but it’s the nearest to the original in English. However in my experience the usage is quite different: I wouldn’t say “don’t piss into the wind” (“into” is used where I come from) but I would describe an action as “pissing into the wind”. But scrub the nonsense about not insulting the future. Not sure what language that’s supposed to be.
    – David
    Sep 11, 2023 at 18:54
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The first phrase I thought of is: Do not throw the arrow which will return against you.

I learned this phrase from the computer game Sid Meier's Civilization 4 (2005), where it is attributed to a Kurdish proverb. I am guessing its usage in English is limited to young adults who played way too much of the game.

2

"There but for the grace of God go I/you" is a phrase used upon observing somebody's misfortune to indicate that the speaker feels lucky that they themselves are not in the same situation. It can be used as an admonishment in the second person instead of the first to remind someone that there is not much separating any of us. It can be a way of expressing that you should not enjoy others' misfortunes, since it could have just as well been you yourself. It fits well with the first example sentence of a person expressing delight at another's misfortune, but not particularly well with the other examples.

2

fuck around and find out

(intransitive, slang, vulgar) To engage in a risky course of action, and then experience the negative consequences. 

play stupid games, win stupid prizes

(humorous) If one makes poor decisions one should expect negative consequences.

1

I would use the idiom "Don't spit into the wind" as a nearly exact equivalent of the wording, although I would not say it matches the meaning exactly. It’s more a warning not to take on something that you can’t handle.

https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=spit%20in%20the%20wind

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  • ‘Spitting into the wind’ means ‘a futile effort’. Describes something self defeating, but that idiom doesnt convey the meaning that you are doing damage or harm to the others. So I think is a false friend
    – tac
    Sep 13, 2023 at 0:13
  • @tac: it’s not just futile, there is an implication that it is unwise and at the very least unpleasant and possibly more. Although, you’re right that there is little to no implication that it harmful to others.
    – jmoreno
    Sep 13, 2023 at 2:52
  • @Tac (1/2) To spit in the wind, or in the ocean, or piss in the ocean, is a futile effort that will be overwhelmed by the scale of what you are up against. But to spit into the wind is a different expression altogether, and perfectly matches the last paragraph of OP's translation "don't spit upwards because it may fall on you". This is the best answer.
    – Kirt
    Sep 14, 2023 at 6:24
  • @tac 2/2 The use of this idiom can be heard in Jim Croche's "You don't mess around with Jim", where is is the second in a list of things that are foolish and dangerous because of the harm they will bring to you. "You don't tug on Superman's cape / You don't spit into the wind / You don't pull the mask off that old Lone Ranger / And you don't mess around with Jim"
    – Kirt
    Sep 14, 2023 at 6:27
  • @Kirt I don't think the notion of foolish is involved at all in ‘no escupas hacia arriba’. Is more like getting a momentary benefit at the expense of the other, without being aware that the destiny will give you a taste of your own medicine. Of course, it could be criticizing or a concrete action towards the other
    – tac
    Sep 14, 2023 at 13:18
1

How about "Live by the sword, die by the sword"?

We typically use it to mean, be careful about the means you employ because they might come back to bite you.

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