What is the origin of the phrase “do not argue with idiots”? Please cite some credible references.

From googling around, I found these three variations. One came from the Bible but I couldn’t find any credible source for the other two.

  1. Don’t argue with idiots because they will drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience. —Greg King
  2. Never argue with a fool; onlookers may not be able to tell the difference. —Mark Twain
  3. Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him. —Proverbs 26:4 (King James version)

As you can see, only the last one is easily verifiable.

  • The only one I had heard of was number 1. It has since become quite popular.
    – Rory Alsop
    Commented May 2, 2012 at 7:54
  • 2
    I would guess the KJV, if for no other reason than that it presented the concept first. However, I do not actually know.
    – zpletan
    Commented May 2, 2012 at 11:43
  • Well, if you cared enough to do the research, presumably if Twain really did write that you could find it in one of his books. It's likely is books are available electronically and you could search them. Note, though, that clever lines are often subtly (or not so subtly) changed when quoted to make sense without the context, so it may be tricky to find the exact words.
    – Jay
    Commented May 2, 2012 at 14:09
  • 16
    Didn't Abraham Lincoln say, "The problem with quotes on the internet is that they are so often misattributed."?
    – user24644
    Commented Aug 8, 2012 at 11:59
  • 4
    Are you looking for the origin of that exact phrase, or of the sentiment? The sentiment, as your KJV quote shows, is timeless: Latin ne respondeas stulto iuxta stultitiam suam, Hebrew תַּ֣עַן כְּ֭סִיל כְּאִוַּלְתֹּ֑ו Only the phrases's origin would be on topic here. Commented Aug 8, 2012 at 21:43

2 Answers 2


How about “If you argue with an idiot, there are two idiots” – Robert Kiyosaki?

My usual go-to for quotes is wikiquotes, and they don't list that Mark Twain quote on their page, nor does it come up in JSTOR. Similarly with Greg King.

This is not proof, but it does make it a bit suspect, and wrongly attributed quotes are depressingly common.

  • 5
    Your Kiyosaki quote isn't present in his wikiquote page: en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Robert_kiyosaki
    – annawie
    Commented May 3, 2012 at 2:19
  • Kiyosaki has cribbed so many other things, I think someone must have said it well before he did. But yes, misattributed quotes are so tricky. And of course I don't want to get in an argument over, of all things, who said THAT quote.
    – aschultz
    Commented Apr 20, 2019 at 23:43

Never try to teach a pig to sing; it wastes your time and it annoys the pig.
― Robert Heinlein

As was discussed on this web page, sometimes this one gets attributed to Twain as well. (Roaring Fish made a great comment; miscited quotes are all too common, and I suppose that's grown worse in the Internet Age.)

In any case, I'm sure many people have come up with various ways to express the same concept through the ages. Some of the wittier versions become widely known, and half of those get attributed to Twain. On my side of the ocean, Franklin probably gets credit for half of the rest, while those probably go to G.B. Shaw on the other side of the pond.

He may look like an idiot and talk like an idiot but don't let that fool you. He really is an idiot.
― Groucho Marx

  • More likely to Oscar Wilde than to Shaw. Commented May 2, 2012 at 16:12
  • 3
    @PeterTaylor, Or the meta-quote. Oscar Wilde: (about a witty remark) "I wish I had said that", originator: "Don't worry Oscar - you will have done"
    – mgb
    Commented May 2, 2012 at 16:28
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    How about "Never try to wrestle with a pig. You'll get dirty and the pig likes it."
    – Mitch
    Commented Aug 8, 2012 at 21:44

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