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Let sleeping dogs lie

“Let sleeping dogs lie” is a reminder not to bring unnecessary risk or danger upon oneself.

“Let sleeping dogs lie” is a well-known proverb that fits the definition of what a proverb is supposed to do perfectly. They are phrases that act as pieces of advice and it takes context and experience to understand what exactly someone means by “let sleeping dogs lie.” Luckily, this proverb is less confusing than some, as readers can come to some conclusions about what happens if one doesn’t let a sleeping dog sleep. 

Let sleeping dogs lie meaning


Meaning of “Let sleeping dogs lie”

The phrase “let sleeping dogs lie” is a reminder not to bring unnecessary risk or danger upon oneself. The saying originates from the idea that waking a sleeping dog was dangerous, especially if done suddenly. This applies to an even greater extent to guard dogs who once awoken would likely attack. The phrase has come to apply to a vast swath of situations in which one might poke something that’s better left alone.


When to Use “Let sleeping dogs lie”

“Let sleeping dogs lie” should be used as a reminder to someone else, or to oneself, about the dangers of one activity or another. For example, a friend might say the phrase to tell someone that starting an argument, questioning a rule, provoking their parent or partner, or any other actions are better left undone. Alternatively, one might say the line to themselves, reminding themselves not to act too rashly or too quickly. If one is going to “wake a sleeping dog,” then it should be done gently. 


Example Sentences with “Let sleeping dogs lie”

  • Amber, you know what they say, just let sleeping dogs lie.
  • I really don’t think you should do that, Joseph, you need to let sleeping dogs lie.
  • I just had to remind myself to let sleeping dogs lie and I changed my mind.
  • Did you see what happened with Sally and her parents? That’s the perfect example of why we let sleeping dogs lie.
  • I heard that Anna is on the way to the manager’s office, she’s certainly not letting sleeping dogs lie.


Why Do Writers Use “Let sleeping dogs lie”

As with almost all proverbs, this one can be used in everyday speech quite easily. Therefore, it makes sense for writers to try to incorporate it into their dialogue. The more realistic a conversation between two characters in a book or short story is, the more likely it is that the reader will be easily convinced by them. This proverb might also be used by a narrator in a story. If the narrator uses the phrase, it might foreshadow something to come. There might be something negative on the horizon that a character is about to get themselves into. That all being said, writers sometimes choose not to use proverbs in their writing or instead come up with new ones themselves in order to make their dialogue and writing as original as possible. Proverbs are what they are due to common use. They’re often overused and, over time, became cliche due to this fact. 


Origin of “Let sleeping dogs lie” 

“Let sleeping dogs lie”  has been in use for centuries. Some scholars have suggested that the phrase dates back to the 1300s, specifically to Geoffrey Chaucer, who used it in Troilus and Criseyde. In this volume he wrote the following: 

It is nought good a slepyng hound to wake.

Later, the phrase was included in A Dialogue Prouerbes English Tongue, published in 1546. In this volume, it was catalogued as a popular proverb. It was written as: 

It is euill wakyng of the slepyng dog. 

These versions are quite similar, in content, to that which is commonly used today, but no one is quite sure where the phrase originated. Perhaps it began with Chaucer, but as with most proverbs, there is no record indicating its original use. The exact wording that’s commonly used today appeared in the 19th century in The London Magazine. They published a story titled The Second Tale of Allan Lorburne, which included the line: 

Let sleeping dogs lie, said the daft man, when he saw the dead hound before him.

It should be noted that unlike some proverbs, the meaning of the phrase seems mostly unchanged since it was used by Chaucer in the 1300s. This is remarkable considering the centuries separating these two periods of time. 


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