Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Let Sleeping Dogs Lie

Posted by Elyse Bruce on December 31, 2010

The old saying, let sleeping dogs lie, means more than just to let sleeping dogs lie, which is very sound advice in the first place.  It also means that one ought not instigate trouble.  In other words, people should leave situations or people alone else it might cause them trouble.

The Atlanta Constitution newspaper reported on a court case on August 6, 1909 that dealt with a Mr. Jerome who had menaced a Mr. Carvalho who had threatened Mr. Jerome.  The article read in part:

“You’d better let sleeping dogs lie, Mr. Jerome,” exclaimed the witness, before the district attorney had said a word. As he spoke the expert’s eyes flashed and he pointed an agitated finger at Jerome.

In November of 1870, the New York Times ran an article entitled, “Russia and India: The Frontier of the Russian Empire.”  The article asked whether England was on the verge of losing its Asiatic possessions.

Let us consider why Russia has gained enough to suppose she is sufficiently strong to infringe the wholesome rule to “let sleeping dogs lie” when applied to the English. The Crimean War showed her plainly that her people were barbarians, and that her strength lay in brute force.

The saying “let sleeping dogs lie” was a favourite of Sir Robert Walpole, the first Prime Minister of Great Britain, who exercised considerable influence over King George I as well as King George II from 1721 through to 1742.  He was quoted as saying this on more than one occasion regardless of whether it had to do with matters of the King’s Court, the American Revolution or any other situation where difficulties had arisen.

Geoffrey Chaucer used a similar phrase in his story, Troilus and Criseyde, published in 1374.

It is nought good a sleepyng hound to wake.

It’s recorded in French even earlier in the 14th century, as found in the Proverbia Vulgalia et Latina, where the saying is:  “Ne reveillez pas le chien qui dort.”  Translation: Do not wake the dog that sleeps.

As the phrase is referenced in the Proverbia Vulgalia et Latina, it is most likely that it comes from the Latin saying, “Quieta non movere” which means “Do not move settled things.”

That being said, the Book of Proverbs (26:17) says:

He that passes by, and meddles with strife belonging not to him, is like one that takes a dog by the ears.

In other words, the saying “let sleeping dogs lie” has its roots in the Bible.

10 Responses to “Let Sleeping Dogs Lie”

  1. […] Source: historically speaking. […]

  2. […] “My dear lady, I knew you were a dog,” said Rabab and I had the distinct impression that they were to be his last words. With a jump that would put a ballerina to shame, the Muse soared through the air and landed rather heavily on Rabab. The poor fellow immediately deflated with a rather sad pffffftttt sound. The Muse unceremoniously rolled him up- he was but a paper weight after all (being written and conceived on paper) and stuffed him where the whip had come from. No, we do NOT want to know where that is. “Right, that’s that,” she said and grinned at me. “Oh, I see the Kitty got your tongue. Is that what you have been up to you mangy lion? Stolen words never made anyone’s tummy full, you know. Just ask me,” she said and stroked her well rounded abdomen. “Look at me, I am positively anorexic.” “Pfffttt,” I said and she rounded on me with her teeth bared. “What was that, dear?” she inquired. “Uhmmm, nothing, nothing at all.” I was suddenly very afraid of her- she had a lion and heaven only knew when she would whip him out again. “So, you were thinking of murdering the lot of us weren’t you, dear?” “I can honestly say I wasn’t.” She looked at me and I had the distinct feeling that she did not believe me. The history of let sleeping dogs lie. https://idiomation.wordpress.com/2010/12/31/let-sleeping-dogs-lie/ […]

  3. […] saying Let sleeping dogs lie was often used by the British Prime Minister, Sir Robert Walpole, from early 1700. However, he did […]

  4. […] the idiom – let sleeping dogs lie – goes back as far as the 14th century according to one resource found in my research. It was recorded in French and literally translated as “Do not wake the dog […]

  5. […] I tend to make exceptions when I’m traveling. Often, the causes for the expeditions are beyond my hourly control, so if I have to be up before my internal alarm is interested in my arising, I will generally take advantage of any good food being offered by my hosts, whether they’re homeowners hospitably letting me invade their personal space or hotels with in-house breakfast accommodations. These pictures, for example, come from the summer’s travels and represent foods that went a long way toward ameliorating the agony of having to get out of bed before it seemed the rational thing to do. If anyone is to have half a hope of maneuvering me out of a comfy sleep any time before my body would grudgingly agree to that negotiation, it had better be, at the very least, with a magnificent cardamom roll (bottom photo, from Sandhamn, Sweden). Or perhaps the mind-bendingly gorgeous and seemingly endless spread offered in the palatial breakfast room (top photo) of our hotel in Budapest this summer. Otherwise, you can trust me when I tell you that it’s advisable to let sleeping dogs lie. […]

  6. […] and probably meant something different. For example, “Let Sleeping Dogs Lie” has been traced back to the book of […]

  7. […] say never trouble trouble till trouble troubles you!  In this respect, it’s related to let sleeping dogs lie, don’t meet troubles halfway, and don’t cross the bridge till you come to […]

  8. […] Let Sleeping Dogs Lie Should You Wake Your Dog from a Dream?   var hupso_services_t=new Array("Twitter","Facebook","Google Plus","Pinterest","Linkedin","StumbleUpon");var hupso_background_t="#EAF4FF";var hupso_border_t="#66CCFF";var hupso_toolbar_size_t="small";var hupso_twitter_via = "MySlimDoggy";var hupso_image_folder_url = "";var hupso_twitter_via="MySlimDoggy";var hupso_url_t="";var hupso_title_t="Let Sleeping Dogs Lie"; Tags:BehaviorHealth […]

  9. […] https://idiomation.wordpress.com/2010/12/31/let-sleeping-dogs-lie/ […]

  10. Allstonian said

    Um, the Book of Proverbs is from the Old Testament, which predates the Christian canon

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