Glossary Home Idioms

It takes one to know one

“It takes one to know one” is an English idiom. It’s used when one person wants to point out that what they’re being accused of is actually reflected in the accuser.

The phrase is generally used as an insult, but it could be used playfully between friends, family members, and close colleagues. It’s unlikely that one is going to hear this phrase in a professional context, and if it does appear, that context is likely devolving, and an unprofessional argument is on the verge of occurring. The idiom has its origin sometime in the late 19th or early 20th century, but it’s unclear where exactly it was used first. This is far from uncommon for idioms like “it takes one to know one.”

It takes one to know one

“It takes one to know one” Meaning

“It takes one to know one” is a common idiom used to describe how one person relates to another. It takes one type of person to recognize that same type of person somewhere else.

 For example, if someone is greedy, they are going to be able to easily recognize other greedy people. That attribute is so central to their personality that it sticks out in others. Usually, this idiom is associated with a negative attribute, like jealously, criminal behavior, greed, general untrustworthiness, and more. 


“It takes one to know one” originated in the late 19th or early 20th century, according to  Random House Dictionary of Popular Proverbs and Sayings by Gregory Y. Titelman. Like most idioms, this one does not have a clear origin. But, it’s likely that it evolved naturally over time, being used more and more often in conversations until it became some common that many people considered it cliché. Some people have related this idiom back to a more specific phrase, “pot calling the kettle black,” which is suggestive of the same similarities between two people or situations.

When to Use “It takes one to know one”

It’s possible to use “it takes one to know one” in a wide variety of scenarios. It’s a fairly well-known saying. This means that most people who hear it are going to have heard it before and know exactly why it’s being used and how they could use it themselves. The phrase is best used among friends and family members or in an argument during which the speaker is willing to offend someone. 

The phrase is usually used when one person wants to point out a negative attribute in someone else. For example, if two friends are in an argument and one accuses the other of being thoughtless. The accused might respond with, “it takes one to know one.” This suggests that the accusing friend is actually thoughtless as well. It’s a simple response, one that does not do anything to resolve an argument. More likely, it’s going to anger the other party more. 

Example Sentences

  • Yeah, well, it takes one to know one! 
  • You’d know! It takes one to know one. 
  • You think I’m lazy? Well it takes one to know one. 
  • Then he told him that it “takes one to know one” and I didn’t know what to say.
  • Using “it takes one to know one” in an argument is so childish, don’t you think?

Why Do Writers Use the Idiom? 

Writers use “it takes one to know one” in a wide variety of situations. It’s used for the same reasons and in the same way that the phrase is used in everyday conversations. It could be included in a dialogue between two characters who are having an argument or are simply teasing one another. The idiom is not necessarily always going to be used as an insult. This is why it’s better suited for more casual conversations. One friend might jokingly use it to describe another’s actions.

For example, if one person caucuses another of being drunk. Then, the accused answers with “it takes one to know one,” suggesting that the accuser is actually drunk as well. This could be a part of good-natured banter among friends in real life or within the pages of a narrative. 


Why do people use “It takes one to know one?” 

People use “it takes one to know one” usually when they want to insult someone. It turns an insult back around on the person who delivered it. More often than not, it’s used in this context. But it’s also possible to use it as a joke, suggesting that one person’s attributes are shared. 

Where did “it takes one to know one” come from? 

“It takes one to know one” has an unknown origin. It came into common use sometime around the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but beyond that, there are few details available in regard to who first used it. 

Can “takes one to know one” be positive? 

It could be if it’s used to share a positive attribute. For example, if someone compliments their friend on their intelligence and that friend returns the compliment by saying it takes on to know one who is intelligent. 

Related Idioms 

Discover the Essential Secrets

of Poetry

Sign up to unveil the best kept secrets in poetry,

brought to you by the experts

The Best-Kept Secrets of Poetry

Discover and learn about the greatest poetry ever straight to your inbox

Share via
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap