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I'm looking for a simile or idiom that means

two things might look alike but are in fact way too different.

Something like the opposite of the saying

A coin has two sides
There's two sides to a coin

something like

behind every mask lies a different person

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  • "My way or the highway."
    – Peter
    Jan 27, 2016 at 0:38
  • That's not it. I'll give you an example. It's as if someone is angry at an entire race because one person of that race hurt someone in their family. Not everyone is the same -- that's the message I want to deliver, using a simile or an idiom. I want something like 'behind every mask lies a different person.' Jan 27, 2016 at 0:45
  • There are two idioms that are opposite what you want: "Birds of a feather flock together" (meaning if you see someone hanging out with bad people, he's probably bad also), and "one rotten apple spoils the whole bunch" (meaning if you let one agitator or malingerer get onto your team, they'll drag down the morale of the whole team). Closer to what you want is "Don't judge a book by its cover" but that only applies if you're talking about judging somebody by their appearance.
    – The Photon
    Jan 27, 2016 at 1:11
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    I think I'm beginning to understand what you're looking for Two side of the same coin is They appear different, but are the same. You are looking for They appear the same, but are different which can be chrarcterized by Each one of us are individuals / special / unique or They are all the same but different or There is diversity in their sameness or A rainbow has many colours
    – Peter
    Jan 27, 2016 at 2:48
  • A rotten apple does not necessarily spoil the barrel (a twist of a common saying A rotten apple spoils the barrel) should work, in my humble opinion. Though this isn't exactly the opposite of A coin has two sides (an opposite would be something like A trick coin may have the same two sides, I suppose), I think it's close to what you described in your comment above. Jan 27, 2016 at 16:05

3 Answers 3

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A good idiom for your example of being angry with every member of a particular race, due to what one member of that race did is 'to tar everyone with the same brush', which means to think (incorrectly) that every member of a particular group has the same bad qualities shown by just one member of that group.

You might 'Tar everyone with the same brush' because you think that 'birds of a feather, flock together' - i.e. that people who decide to be a part of a group with other people with similar traits to themselves.

"I hate people from that town - one of them stole my money."

"You shouldn't tar everyone with the same brush"

"Birds of a feather, flock together"

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One rather common idiom in English is don't paint with such a broad brush.

A broad brush means something that is sweepingly general, and the idiom paint with a broad brush means to describe a class of objects or a kind of phenomenon in general terms, without specific details and without attention to individual variations.

Usually, painting with a broad brush is considered negative, in that it's used to describe people who are overgeneralizing.

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  • To be honest, I've never heard that expression in the UK.
    – Steve Ives
    Jan 27, 2016 at 16:15
  • @SteveIves - Interesting, the tar/paint difference between BrE and AmE. Here is the US, paint is heard more often than tar, I think. Interesting ngram, too.
    – J.R.
    Jan 28, 2016 at 0:20
  • both expressions convey a similar concept, although 'paint with a broad brush' actually makes more sense in that it implies you might apply paint to bits you don't mean to, whereas I can't see the issue in tarring things that need to be tarred with the same brush.
    – Steve Ives
    Jan 28, 2016 at 10:37
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a simile or idiom that means that two things might look alike but are in fact way too different.

"Don't judge a book by its cover" means you cannot judge things or people by their external appearances.

Beware that this phrase is very well known and if you use it in formal writing or persuasive writing it will come across as a cliche.

It's as if someone is angry at an entire race because one person of that race hurt someone in their family.

You could also refer to "the good Samaritan", who, in a biblical parable, was a man who helped a Jew in distress, despite the Jews and Samaritans being enemies. More often, though, a "good Samaritan" is just someone who helps a stranger.

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