Origin of “Let sleeping dogs lie”
“Let sleeping dogs lie” has been in use for centuries. Some scholars have suggested that the phrase dates back to the 1300s, specifically to Geoffrey Chaucer, who used it in Troilus and Criseyde. In this volume he wrote the following:
Later, the phrase was included in A Dialogue Prouerbes English Tongue, published in 1546. In this volume, it was catalogued as a popular proverb. It was written as:
These versions are quite similar, in content, to that which is commonly used today, but no one is quite sure where the phrase originated. Perhaps it began with Chaucer, but as with most proverbs, there is no record indicating its original use. The exact wording that’s commonly used today appeared in the 19th century in The London Magazine. They published a story titled The Second Tale of Allan Lorburne, which included the line:
It should be noted that unlike some proverbs, the meaning of the phrase seems mostly unchanged since it was used by Chaucer in the 1300s. This is remarkable considering the centuries separating these two periods of time.
Why Do Writers Use “Let sleeping dogs lie”
As with almost all proverbs, this one can be used in everyday speech quite easily. Therefore, it makes sense for writers to try to incorporate it into their dialogue. The more realistic a conversation between two characters in a book or short story is, the more likely it is that the reader will be easily convinced by them. This proverb might also be used by a narrator in a story. If the narrator uses the phrase, it might foreshadow something to come. There might be something negative on the horizon that a character is about to get themselves into. That all being said, writers sometimes choose not to use proverbs in their writing or instead come up with new ones themselves in order to make their dialogue and writing as original as possible. Proverbs are what they are due to common use. They’re often overused and, over time, became cliche due to this fact.