If you can’t beat them, join them

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The phrase if you can’t beat them, join them is a proverb that has only been traced as far back as the 1930s. A proverb is a short, common saying or phrase that particularly gives advice or shares a universal truth. Common proverbs are phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often spoken or are considered informal or conversational. Sometimes, only the beginning of a proverb is quoted, the speaker assuming that the listener can supply the rest of the quote for himself. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand proverbs, as they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the figurative meaning of a proverb in order to know English like a native speaker. We will examine the expression if you can’t beat them, join them, where it was first seen in print and some examples of its use in sentences.

If you can’t beat them, join them usually means if you can not defeat your opponent, you may as well join forces with him in order to have at least a modicum of control of the situation. An alternate meaning of if you can’t beat them, join them is the advice to adopt the methods that your opponent is using in a situation, but not necessarily the goals. In this case, if you can’t beat them, join them has a similar meaning to the phrase beat someone at his own game. Usage of the phrase if you can’t beat them, join them may be good-natured, deferring to the will of the group, or it may be a warning that the conflict is about to become more intense. If you can’t beat them join them is American English, though its etymology is shrouded in mystery. The earliest known use of the term is in the Atlantic Monthly magazine, in 1932. Senator James E. Watson listed the term as one of his favorite maxims, which means it was in use for some period of time before 1932. The exact quote is “If you can’t lick ’em, jine ’em.” This is a rendering of the phrase with slang terminology, used to communicate in specialized situations. The phrase if you can’t lick them, join them is still occasionally seen, but the word lick to mean defeat is not used as often as it once was. If you can’t beat them, join them is a proverb that is often quoted as pragmatic advice for those in politics.


Durant’s “if you can’t beat them, join them” attitude has attracted criticism since he moved to the Bay Area but it has also seen him win the last two NBA titles while being named NBA Finals MVP in both occasions. (Newsweek Magazine)

But with the iPhone XS, Apple is playing an ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’ strategy by mimicking the image processing of Google’s Pixels. (Forbes Magazine)

In the most literal example of the “if you can’t beat them, join them” mentality, he goes from Levi’s victim to his barely tolerated “pet” in the profoundly misbegotten belief that if he can outmatch them in the viciousness of his racial hatred, he will have found a tribe to which he can belong. (Variety Magazine)

“Maybe this falls under the heading of ‘If you can’t lick ’em, join ’em,’” says renowned Key West skipper R.T. Trosset. (Sport Fishing Magazine)