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Give him an inch and he’ll take a mile

  • Give him an inch and he’ll take a mile is a proverb that is hundreds of years old. A proverb is a short, common saying or phrase that may be a famous quote, an inspirational quote, an epigram, or the topic of a parable. These common sayings are language tools or figures of speech that particularly give advice or share a universal truth, or impart wisdom. Synonyms for proverb include adage, aphorism, sayings, and byword, which can also be someone or something that is the best example of a group. Often, a proverb is so familiar that a speaker will only quote half of it, relying on the listener to supply the ending of the written or spoken proverb himself because these common phrases and popular sayings are so well known. Certain phrases may be a metaphor or a quotation; but if it is a proverb, it is often-used and has a figurative meaning. Speakers of English as a second language are sometimes confused by these pithy sayings as translations from English to other languages do not carry the impact that the English phrases carry. Some common proverbs are the wise sayings better late than never; early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise; an apple a day keeps the doctor away; don’t cry over spilt milk; actions speak louder than words; haste makes waste, don’t look a gift horse in the mouth; and a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. One of the books of the Bible is the Book of Proverbs, which contains words and phrases that are still often quoted in the English language because they are wise. Many current proverbs are quotations taken from literature, particularly Shakespeare, as well as the Bible and other sacred writings. We will examine the meaning of the proverb give him an inch and he’ll take a mile, where the expression came from, and some examples of its use in sentences.

     

    Give him an inch and he’ll take a mile is a phrase that means if you make a small concession to someone or do a small favor for someone, he will expect even more concessions or more or larger favors. The idea is that the person in question does not understand boundaries and will try to take advantage. The expression give him an inch and he’ll take a mile has been in use since the late 1800s, though it is derived from a phrase found in John Heywood’s 1546 work, A dialogue conteinyng the nomber in effect of all the prouerbes in the Englishe tongue: “Give him an inch and he’ll take an ell.” An ell was a unit of measurement for cloth that was about 45 inches in length. The expression give him an inch and he’ll take a mile is often expressed using only the first half of the phrase: give him an inch. Related phrases are gives him an inch and he’ll take a mile, gave him an inch and he took a mile, has given him an inch and he’s taken a mile, giving him an inch and he’s taking a mile.

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    Examples

    “He has really done enough freeloading — give him an inch and he’ll take a mile.” (Taipei Times)

    “Give him an inch and he’ll take a mile,’’ Sadler said of his father John’s fickle sprinter. (Herald Sun)

    We found out on the quick, that he’s the kind of dog that if you give him an inch, he’ll take a mile or more if he can. (Block Island Times)


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