I've been looking for a proverbial sentence which literally says:

  • People usually sprinkle salt on "every perishable thaink" that is going bad or has started to rot! But, imagine the case when the "salt itself" goes bad! What a mess it could be! Connotation: If salt rots itself, undoubtedly, you would lose your hope avoiding some "perishable" things to deteriorate!
  • Where "salt" means "a good person" and the word "perishable" indicates all the people who have a higher tendency to be deprived or do something irrational or potentially are able to do any unjustifiable action.

The only English equivalent I came up with was what I mentioned within the title:

  • If gold rusts, what will iron do?!

Although I think within a context it would be self-evident, but I'm not confident whether if it is the way a native would convey the same mesaage!

Now please let me know what would you normally say in the same case? Is there any similar saying in English?

  • Remember. Proverbs and sayings tend to be clichés. The use of cliches is a sign of poor English. You should try to avoid using cliches when possible.
    – James K
    Commented Apr 28, 2019 at 15:30
  • 1
    If gold rusts, what will iron do?, while far from common, seems perfectly understandable to me. Commented Apr 28, 2019 at 18:06
  • With all due respect @James K I disagree! Knowing any language's proverbs when one is able to communicate easily, is a sign of the fact that the individual is reaching the heart of that language. Undoubtedly, it requires a deep feeling toward that particular language! That would not be possible but when the learner enters deep down inside that language. So it would not be indicative of poor language if one tends to know more about some more specific lingual constructions even though what they are looking for is considered as a cliche!
    – A-friend
    Commented Apr 29, 2019 at 7:12

2 Answers 2


The best sources for proverbs in English are the Bible and Shakespeare. And of course there are many quotations available from other authors, and folk maxims abound. (I disagree with the comment that quotations are the mark of bad writing. To be sure, if you can think of a pithy new way to something, that is preferable to a hackneyed cliche, but it will be hard to improve upon Keats's "Beauty is truth, truth beauty" if that is what you want to say.)

In your case, "if the salt has lost its savour, wherewith shall it be salted?" seems to do the trick.

  • Thabk you @Jeff Morrow! Just is if the salt has lost its savour, wherewith shall it be salted is a common and understandable saying these days? Or this is just a translation?
    – A-friend
    Commented Apr 29, 2019 at 5:38
  • 1
    The quotation that I gave is from the King James version of the Protestant Bible. Most educated people who are elderly are likely to know it as given as are most church-going Christians. Others may find the meaning obscure because the English is very old-fashioned. To express the thought in more modern English, you could say "If salt loses it flavor, how will you make it salty?" That is perfectly comprehensible although it loses any obvious allusion to one of the historical foundations of modern English prose. Commented Apr 29, 2019 at 12:43

If you're specifically asking about a saying related to people, you might use:

If the best of us falters, what hope do the rest of us have?

However, that's somewhat overly formal language, which may or may not work for a proverb.

There's a relevant quote that's more of a statement than a question that may also work:

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.

Exactly where the quote comes from is some matter of debate, but is generally attributed to Edmund Burke or John Stuart Mill.

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