Is there an idiom meaning "not to do something that makes oneself look more awkward" in an already awkward situation?

For example: "We'd better say nothing [or keep silent] so that we don't look more awkward!"

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    A witticism attributed to Mark Twain: "It is better to keep one's mouth shut and be thought a fool than to open it and remove all doubt."
    – randomhead
    Commented Apr 4, 2021 at 14:31
  • "to keep one's stupid mouth shut" comes to mind...or: "to not make a bad situation worse".
    – Lambie
    Commented Apr 5, 2021 at 16:02
  • It's not an idiom, but I've been known to say "I'll just shut up now." I use it as a way to try to inject a little self deprecating humor, but it doesn't always work. Commented Apr 7, 2021 at 16:19

8 Answers 8


The saying "Stop digging yourself into a hole" (or in this case "We should stop digging ourselves into a hole") seems to fit. It refers to someone who is already in a bad or awkward situation, and says they should stop making it worse. See: Wikipedia.

"Stop while you're ahead" could be used if the situation has not yet become awkward but continuing to talk would make it so.

  • 18
    I'm used to the "hole" reference being expressed as When you're in a hole, stop digging (and that's a lot of written instances in Google Books). Commented Apr 4, 2021 at 16:18
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    This idiom/metaphor is well-known enough that just it’s often invoked casually as just “Stop digging!”
    – PLL
    Commented Apr 5, 2021 at 14:18
  • 6
    Just 'stop digging' will be widely understood. Commented Apr 5, 2021 at 20:31
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    @Tom if you've already said one foolish or awkward thing, you might be inclined to "quit while you're behind" to avoid going even further behind.
    – Hellion
    Commented Apr 5, 2021 at 20:38
  • 5
    It’s worth noting that “stop while you’re ahead” is often used sarcastically—you aren’t ahead, except perhaps relative to where you’ll end up if you continue!
    – KRyan
    Commented Apr 6, 2021 at 2:26

You might be interested in the phrase Cut your losses. From Oxford Languages (...the Google result):

to abandon an enterprise or course of action that is clearly going to be unprofitable or unsuccessful before one suffers too much loss or harm. "an inner voice was urging her to cut her losses and go back to England"

In your case, saying something like, "Cut your losses and stop talking" would be a brusque but concise way to express your point.

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    "Are you pregnant?" asked Jon. "No." Sue coldly replied After an awkward pause, Jon considered saying, "Well then why do you look so puffy? Instead, he decided to cut his losses, and change the subject. "Lovely weather we're having, eh?" said Jon.
    – kmiklas
    Commented Apr 7, 2021 at 5:45
  • The military equivalent of "cut your losses" is "cut sling load". When a helicopter is carrying a load (suspended via ropes, or a sling), it may encounter a situation where continuing to carry the load would be extremely dangerous - the pilots will issue the command "cut sling load" - i.e., cut the lines holding the load, dropping it to the ground.
    – user5261
    Commented Apr 7, 2021 at 14:36

There's an idiom if you keep your mouth shut, you won't put your foot in it which means

If you keep quiet, then you won't unintentionally say something foolish, tactless, or offensive.

To describe a situation that's already awkward, you could say "take your foot out of your mouth". Here's a usage of this phrase in such a context.

These come from the idiom put foot in mouth, meaning

To unintentionally say something foolish, tactless, or offensive.

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    It's a lot less common than the general foot-in-mouth idiom it's based on. I've never heard it, but fortunately it's easily understandable as a normal phrase involving the foot-in-mouth idiom. Commented Apr 5, 2021 at 0:35
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    Or for anyone familiar with "putting your foot in your mouth" would I think correctly interpret "take your foot out of your mouth" to match what the OP is looking for. Commented Apr 5, 2021 at 10:12
  • @Shufflepants That's a very good idea. I've added it to the answer, thanks.
    – cigien
    Commented Apr 5, 2021 at 14:59

Several good answers, and a bit more wordy sentiment might be: "Better to stay silent and thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt."

  • 4
    Often attributed to Mark Twain or Abraham Lincoln (thought almost certainly neither man is the source). A page on quoteinvestigator.com suggests that Maurice Seltzer’s 1906 work Mrs. Goose, Her Book is the origin. It echoes (in a more humorous fashion) a Biblical line in Proverbs 17:28: “Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue.”
    – KRyan
    Commented Apr 6, 2021 at 2:30

Another idiom is to "save face".

To try to regain favorable standing after something embarrassing has happened; to give or afford someone an opportunity to avoid embarrassment, humiliation, or shame.

For example:

I was late to the meeting but tried to save face by blaming an urgent call.

Though this leans more toward taking certain actions in an attempt to rectify the situation, as opposed to not taking certain actions to avoid making the situation worse.


Mine would be play it cool or trying to play it cool.


"To add insult to injury" is a common idiom, which means:

to do or say something that makes a bad situation even worse for someone

Example: People were forced to work longer hours, and to add insult to injury, the company decided not to give pay raises.

So you could simply say "Don't add insult to injury".


Go with the flow.

Don't make waves.

Take care not to put your foot in your mouth.

Avoid being a square peg in a round hole.

Avoid being a tall poppy.

There's always one! Don't be that one!

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