What Does Bite the Hand That Feeds You Mean?

To Bite the Hand That Feeds You Meaning

Definition: Don’t criticize or hurt those you depend on; don’t turn against a benefactor.

This idiom means that if someone is providing you with necessities, you shouldn’t disrespect them, be ungrateful, or criticize their behavior lest he or she turns around and take away what you need.

It is in your ultimate best interest to take care of those who take care of you. The metaphorical hand that feeds you may be providing you with actual food, with a monetary value, with education, with health care, or anything else.

Origin of Bite the Hand That Feeds You

when you bite the hand that feedsOne of the first print uses of this phrase was by political writer Edmund Burke in the 1700s:

  • Having looked to government for bread, on the first scarcity they will turn and bite the hand that fed them.

It comes from the idea that horses, if you’re not careful, may bite when you feed them by hand. This is ultimately not in the horse’s best interest, as you are the one providing it with food.

Examples of Bite the Hand That Feeds You

biting the hand that feeds you meaningIn the modern day, this idiom is a reminder to be kind to those who are supporting you, usually financially rather than emotionally.

For example,

  • I know you want to tell the boss what you really think, but remember not to bite the hand that feeds you.

Another business example,

  • Leaving the company after they’ve spent three years training you is a bit like biting the hand that feeds you.

In this situation, the employee is taking advantage of a company that has gone out of its way to help him.

Here is a sample dialogue between two authors discussing a book release,

Joe: Are you going to write a blurb for Steve’s book?

Sally: No, I don’t think so. I haven’t read it, and I don’t have the time.

Joe: Didn’t Steve help you get your first book published? And doesn’t he help promote every one of your new releases? Sounds like you’re biting the hand that feeds.

Sally: Good point; I probably should help him.

More Examples

  • Terrorism is the snake that bites the hand the feeds it and quite decisively and you can see the situation in the neighboring country… there is such instability and uncertainty in that nation. These are self-inflicted wounds. –The Nation
  • Also troubling is the fact that arbitrators in consumer cases are usually paid by the financial services company, not the consumer. And financial services companies constitute a source of repeat business for arbitrators, but consumers do not. This can result in a don’t-bite-the-hand-that-feeds-you environment. –The Gazette


This is an English proverb and a warning against treating those who provide you with what you need poorly. If you do, they may no longer be willing or able to continue providing for you.