let sleeping dogs lie.
Let bygones be bygones; don't stir up trouble or an old, ongoing, or irreconcilable argument.
As E.D. Hirsch puts it, “Do not stir up a problem that has lain dormant for some time.” Well, tell that to Montel, Ricky, or Jerry. Clearly this is an anachronism in our contemporary confessional media market. Why shouldn't we stir up problems? Isn't that how we solve them? Besides, it's apparent that watching people squirm is addictive. These days we say, stir up those dogs and send them to the closets for your skeletons too! How will these talk shows survive if we don't throw [them] a bone?
This one goes way back to a line in Chaucer's Troilus and Criesyde: “It is nought good a slepyng hound to wake.” Here the word hound is used because they didn't yet speake of “dogs,” a word that did not emerge until a century or two later. We see the phrase turn up in its modern form in Charles Dickens' David Copperfield (the novel, not the magician!). He adds, “—who wants to rouse 'em?”
It has its parallels in 14th century French: n'esveillez pas lou chien qui dort. This proverbial dog line has been used for book, film, story, and song titles.
1. Przybyla, Leon H. 2001. English Metaphors. Leon's EFL Planet. Accessed Oct 24 2001 from http:// efl.htmlplanet.com/ metaphors.htm .
2. Hirsch, E. D., Jr., Joseph F. Kett, and James Trefil. 1988. The Dictionary of Cultural Literacy [TM]. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co.
3. Bartlett, John. 1980. Familiar Quotations: A Collection of Passages, Phrases and Proverbs Traced to Their Sources in Ancient and Modern Literature. 15th and 125th anniversary edition, rev. and enl. ed. Boston: Little, Brown and Co. 144
4. Ibid. 549.
5. Holder, M. K. 2001. Animal Proverbs & Clichés. Center for the Integrative Study of Animal Behavior. Accessed Sep 19 2001 from http:// www.indiana.edu/ ~animal/ fun/ wordplay/ proverbs.html .