How can I encourage a person to suck up even to the meanest of people, when doing so would benefit the person sucking up? In Arabic, an expression draws this image:

If a dog has something you need, address it as 'master'.

Unlike in western cultures, dogs are generally and sadly undesirable things here, which explains why dog is used as a swear word.

I'm not looking for an English expression that exactly mirrors this, but the closer the better.

Here's an example of how I intend to use the English expression:

Husband: My stupid manager has declined my request for a pay rise. I've been working with him for over 10 years. I know he doesn't like me because I don't suck up to him like everyone else. A new hire gets paid more than I do. Would you believe that?!

Wife: .....

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    Question - are you looking for the reply to be a known idiom, or just any witty reply? Is this serious drama, or comedy?
    – Astralbee
    Oct 17, 2018 at 16:00
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    Your "example" makes it crystal clear you want to be as disparaging as possible towards both your boss and any other workers who "suck up to him", in which case you're really spoilt for choice with expressions like toadying, brown-nosing, ass-licking, be obsequious / servile / sycophantic towards, bow and scrape, etc., etc. But for anyone who wanted to take a more pragmatic line (and perhaps also actually get a pay rise), it's worth remembering that He who pays the piper calls the tune. Oct 17, 2018 at 16:04
  • @Astralbee it doesn't have to be a very common expression. I'm just looking for the closest fit for the image in the Arabic expression. I'm not looking for a witty reply straying from this.
    – Sara
    Oct 17, 2018 at 16:04
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    @Sara Ok that's helpful. I've amended my answer slightly since you added in the context you want to use it.
    – Astralbee
    Oct 17, 2018 at 16:07
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    But you should know that "the image in the Arabic expression" is essentially bound to Arabic culture as much as "idiomatic usage". Any attempt at a "literal translation" would probably be understood in English, because of the context in which it might be used. But the underlying "imagery" is effectively "alien" to Anglophones. In which context it might be worth noting that Anglophones in general don't use "dog" as an insult like this anywhere near as much as many other cultures / languages (though we do rather go overboard with bitch as an insulting term for women). Oct 17, 2018 at 16:08

3 Answers 3


One possibility is:

You should know which side your bread is buttered on.

It doesn't go as far as to advise outright ass-kissing, but it does advise to be aware that you need to remain in the good graces of someone who has such power over your life.


There are certainly words which mean "ass-kissing", such as:

  • "grovel" - act obsequiously in order to obtain favour.
  • "kowtow" - to act in an excessively subservient manner.
  • "ingratiate" - to gain favour by deliberate effort
  • "fawning" - seeking approval or favour by means of flattery

And people who do so may be called a "sycophant" or, more informally, a "toady".

I have a suggestion - there is a known saying about obeying authority figures unquestioningly which is:

If your boss tells you to jump, you ask "how high?"

You could use this expression in the example you gave, and I think it would fit perfectly. But you could also adapt it slightly if you really wanted to keep on the subject of "ass kissing".

Husband: My manager wants me to kiss his ass.

Wife: Honey, if your manager wants you to kiss his ass you ask him "which cheek first?"

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    That's perfect! it's witty and to the point. Thank you! But what if it's not about a boss? Is there a way to make it work with anyone other than a boss?
    – Sara
    Oct 17, 2018 at 16:14
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    @Sara the expression "when I say 'jump' you say 'how high'" is associated with anyone in authority, for example drill sergeants in the military training new recruits. Although it's so old I'm sure they have any number of new ones they use these days. It's also more of a "top-down" argument, in that it's said by someone in authority, and not normally used by those doing the jumping.
    – Andrew
    Oct 17, 2018 at 16:32
  • @Andrew and Astralbee, I've found a somewhat common Turkish expression: Call the bear uncle till you are safe across the bridge if it was to be said in the space above, would it make sense, convey the meaning and above all sound pleasant to your native ear?
    – Sara
    Oct 17, 2018 at 16:56
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    @Sara "Call the bear 'uncle' until you are safely across the bridge" but yeah, it makes perfect sense. I think these kind of sentiments easily span any language barriers. :) Although you should be aware that, at least in the US, Russia is frequently referred to as a bear, so many might think this a reference to that country, or its foreign policy.
    – Andrew
    Oct 17, 2018 at 17:04

Another phrase that means ass-kissing is "brown-nose".


Honey, you should be thinking how you could move up from brown-noser to brown-necker.

  • brown-nose, good term, I didn't know it. But what about "brown-necker", what does it mean? What is its origin? I have found no references to such term or that phrase "from brown-noser to brown-necker"
    – RubioRic
    Oct 18, 2018 at 6:24
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    @RubioRic The term brown-necker in connection with brown-noser paints a very vivid picture of someone stuck so far up someone's behind, that they are brown to their neck. I think it is a very creative way to take this term one step further.
    – Ian
    Oct 18, 2018 at 9:36
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    @Ian Ok, I get the picture. It's creative but is it universal? I mean, is brown-necker an used term? "From brown-noser to brown-necker" has been made up as an ad-hoc example for this question?
    – RubioRic
    Oct 18, 2018 at 9:51
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    For what it's worth I am familiar with the term 'brown noser' and have never heard the term 'brown necker' but I immediately knew what it meant. I assume others would too, but only in context. If the relationship between the two terms wasn't so clearly made I suspect I'd have no idea what it meant.
    – Eric Nolan
    Oct 18, 2018 at 10:30

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