If you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen.
I planned to look into this phrase because it mentioned heat and I fully expected August to be a very hot month. While August is often very hot where I am, July turned out to be a very hot month for me. Last month, I had to deal with a broken air conditioner, and some rooms in my home were hotter than others. It made for some very interesting choices when I had to work on my computer or cook.
Anyway, the heat mentioned in this phrase has at least a couple meanings to it, although it can have a literal meaning in terms of cooking.
“You know what, Johnny? You’re an extremely selfish person.”
“Hey, it takes one to know one.”
This week, we will be looking at a famous saying that has quite of bit of related phrases. I might look at some of them individually in the future, but for now, let’s look at this one that is still in use today.
What Does ‘It Takes One to Know One’ Mean?
This phrase is pretty self-explanatory, but it can mean a few things, based on how it’s used.
For one thing, “It takes one to know one” can be used as a retort. Usually, when this retort is used, a person using it was insulted. For example, that person could be called an idiot or other stupid, yet derogatory name. They will respond by saying, “You are one also” (“Takes one”).
Sometimes, when someone says, “It takes ones to know one,” they can mean that a person who has certain qualities is more likely to see it (or perceive it) in others. It’s like this Danish phrase: “Tyv tror, at hver mand stjæler.” This means “A thief believes everybody steals” (Wiktionary).
Basically, the person who utters the phrase is calling projection, which puts the spotlight on the person making an accusation. Thus, when someone says, “It takes one to know one,” they are saying that the person accusing them of being a certain way is (also) that way (Ammer).
Other times, albeit rarely, the phrase “It takes one to know one” is used in a playful, complementary manner (“What does”). Here’s an example of a father complimenting his daughter:
Jenny is such a brilliant artist. She takes after her dad. I guess it takes one to know one.
That’s pretty nice. 😊 I like it when the phrase is used in this way, but for the most part, “It takes one to know one” is used in a derogatory manner.
Where Did This Phrase Originate?
The first clear answer I got to this question was from an old thread on The Phrase Finder’s forums. On May 8, 2002, a user named Nicole asked other users about the phrase “It takes one to know one.” Nicole wanted to know what the phrase meant, if there were other phrases like that one and if the phrase in question was derogative (she spelled it “derrogative”). Four users responded to the thread within a day.
ESC’s post was the most helpful because he cited an entry from the Random House Dictionary of Popular Proverbs and Sayings (1996). According to the information posted by ESC, the phrase “It takes one to know one” is often used to deflect an accusation and it implies that only a person with certain traits can recognize those traits in others. The snippet also said that the phrase could have originated around the late 19th or early 20th century.
I also found two sources that cited an entry from the American Heritage® Dictionary. According to the entry, the phrase was always meant as a retort to an insult and could date back to the early 1900s.
Additionally, I found out that the phrase like “It takes one to know one” exists in the Gaelic Language. The Compass Rose and GaelicMatters.com websites contained the phrase Aithníonn ciaróg ciaróg eile, which can be translated to “One beetle recognizes another.” However, there was no way to figure out when the phrase was first introduced into the Gaelic language.
What Are Some Similar Phrases to ‘It Takes One to Know One’?
Remember the most common use of the phrase. In that vein, these are similar sayings:
“Look who’s talking.”
“That’s the pot calling the kettle black.”
“I know you are, but what am I?”
I think that each of these phrases deserves further investigation pertaining to their origins. (And the second one would be a fun art project.)
There is also another saying that is related but takes on a new meaning: “It takes a thief to catch a thief.” I would also like to look at this saying, as well.
Ammer, Christine. “It takes one to know one.” The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms. 1995, 1997, 2001, 2002, 2003. The Christine Ammer 1992 Trust. Print. Retrieved. 13 Aug. 2018
While driving on the highway, I was almost hit by a pickup truck that was inches away from more car. The driver failed to signal before passing me, so it was a good thing I looked before changing lanes. That was too close for comfort.
I picked this idiom mainly because of the 1980s show of the same name. However, beyond the obvious definition, the origins of this phrase aren’t as clear.
What Does It Mean When Someone or Something Is ‘Too Close for Comfort’?
When someone or something is “too close for comfort,” it can mean a few things:
A person is near another person, but in a way that invades the second person’s space.
A person is near an object, like a moving car, but the space between them is so small that it heightens the danger of a collision.
A person is aptly describing another person’s character, disposition, or character in a way that the second person is made uncomfortable.
In each of these situations, someone will feel uncomfortable, if not worried or scared.
When Do We Often Use This Phrase?
Often, the phrase is used to describe physical proximity. I’ve heard people use it a few times when they had brush-ins with danger, but I’ve occasionally heard when people were referring to marriage.
Of course, marriage is considered the cornerstones of society but carries its own stigma because it supposed to be a lifetime partnership and people come into marriage with high expectations. When people are married (or live together), they learn more about each other and see each other at their worst. That will make people too close for comfort. And as author Stephanie Coontz pointed out, people often feel trapped in their marriages because of how other aspects of their lives are affected.
In an op-ed for The New York Times, Coontz briefly discussed the history of marriage from the medieval period on and explained why people needed to cultivate relationships outside of marriage. At the time, the number of married-couple households hit an all-time low in the United States; such households were a minority according to figures by the Census Bureau. While many people viewed this as troubling news, Coontz saw it as an opportunity for people to step back and contextualize marriage in a way that allowed people to have more fulfilling relationships with friends and family.
While Coontz agreed that marriage allowed people to experience greater and more exclusive forms of intimacy, there was a danger of isolation and disappointment. In some respects, Americans had become too dependent upon marriage for intimacy and friendship and that took away from other relationships. At the same time, the time that people spent with their spouses were diminished by work days and parenthood. The solution would be for people to restructure their social and work lives in order to allow for more time to communicate with others.
What Is the Origin of This Phrase?
As I said at the top, that is unclear. As I did the research for this post, all I was able to find were a bunch of definitions from the following websites:
The Free Dictionary by Farlex
Cambridge English Dictionary
Collins English Dictionary
In many cases, at least one of these sites would point toward the origin of the phrase. Alas, none was to be found.
I eventually went to Wikipedia. Despite its inherent flaws, it is a good referencing source. There was a little bit of information about a 1956 song entitled, “Too Close for Comfort.” As it turns out, this song has a lot of versions to it, meaning the phrase might have first gained popularity at that time.
The Wiki page also a few links. One of the links I followed was to the Google Books site. The book in question, To Broadway, To Life! The Musical Theater of Bock and Harnick by Philip Lambert had more information about the origins of the song.
“Too Close for Comfort” was a song written the Broadway musical Mr. Wonderful, which opened on March 22, 1956, and starred Sammy Davis, Jr. The single was released before the play opened and it had numerous versions by then. Besides the version sung by Davis and his group, the Will Mastin Trio, there were versions by Peggy Lee, and Teddi King, among others.
Here is a version by Sammy Davis, Jr.:
What About the Show?
Too Close for Comfort was a television show that aired from 1980 to 1987 and starred Ted Knight, an alum from The Mary Tyler Moore Show. In his show, Knight played a cartoonist named Henry Rush who lived in a Victorian house in San Francisco with his wife, Muriel, who was a freelance photographer. The house was used as a duplex.
As the story began, the couple’s grown daughters came to live with them. The daughters — Jackie (a 21-year-old bank teller and aspiring fashion designer) and Sarah (an 18-year-old college student) — eventually moved into the downstairs apartment after a transvestite named Rafkin died suddenly.
In the first season, Monroe Ficus, Sarah’s goofy friend, was a recurring character who got on Henry’s nerves. Monroe soon became a permanent fixture on the show and hilarity ensued.
That sounded pretty funny on the surface, but as Noel Murray explained in a long article for The A.V. Club in 2012, a recurring theme of the series was what the writers did to one of the actors. Jim J. Bullock was a gay comedian whose homosexuality was somewhat of a secret to the viewers, but the writers would hint to it by the way they wrote his character, Monroe.
Monroe was portrayed as a wimpy man who got mixed up with an 80-year-old woman, but that’s not the worst of it. This was especially highlighted in an episode of Too Close for Comfort entitled, “For Every Man There’s Two Women,” where it was suggested that Monroe was raped by two ugly women of varying size. Overall, the episode was a shameful reminder of how society and the film industry dealt with homosexuality, sexual assault, and people who didn’t meet a certain standard of beauty.
All these subjects might be too close for comfort.
Hello, readers! It has been so long since I’ve done a proper News Roundup, so I wanted to fix. This time though, we’re going to try something different. Instead of a bunch of big paragraphs, I decided to try to try another format. This is what I wanted to do from the beginning, but it might be more efficient.
This post is a two-for-one, because as I was looking up the phrase I quoted, I found a phrase close to it: “Opportunity knocks once.” You can probably guess the meaning of either phrase, but the origins might not be as clear.
Just look at him lounging around. He’s really living the life of Riley, isn’t he?
This is a saying I have heard for years, and it’s one of those sayings with a meaning that is instinctively understood. If I was to guess when this saying originated, I probably would have guessed the 1940s, but the phrase is much older than that. It also has an interesting history.
We are going to fight for our rights and get them by any means necessary.
This is a phrase that can be applied today, but one that is at least 64 years old.
I first heard the phrase “by any means necessary” in the 1990s, during an episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. In that episode, an activist friend of Phillip and Vivian Banks came to town and began influence Will and Carlton. The activist was still stuck in a 1960s mindset and she told Will that change needed to be fought for “by any means necessary.” Afterward, Will and Carlton tried to engage in their own activism while fighting to save the job of an unconventional teacher at their school.
At the time, I didn’t give much thought to what the phrase meant, especially since it was portrayed in such a negative light. The character who uttered the phrase in the Fresh Prince episode was stuck in time and labeled a radical, which is itself a loaded term. And while Uncle Phil and Aunt Viv were themselves activists in the 1960s, the writers made sure to make it clear that much of that was in the past.
Would you look at that. Our tax dollars at work. Thanks, Uncle Sam.
Today, I thought I’d go with a patriotic theme because Independence Day in the U.S. isn’t far away. So, what better term to look up than “Uncle Sam?” As it turns out, the most iconic presentation of Uncle Sam was first published in July.
I’m not sure when I first heard this saying, but it is a very common one, particularly in American media. Every now and then, I might hear some character uttering these words or something similar. For those who read a lot of opinion pieces, you might be quite familiar with this phrase, too. You might say it’s overused (D’Addario).