snake in the grass

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Calque of Latin latet anguis in herbā (literally a snake hides in the grass), from Eclogue III by the Roman poet Virgil (traditionally 70 – 19 B.C.E.).[1][2][3] Compare Dutch addertje onder het gras.



snake in the grass (plural snakes in the grass)

  1. (derogatory, informal) A hidden enemy.
    Synonym: backstabber
    • 1906, Horatio Alger, Jr., “The Iron Works Affair”, in Randy of the River: Or The Adventures of a Young Deckhand (Rise in Life Series), New York, N.Y.: Grosset & Dunlap, →OCLC, page 57:
      The trouble is, I trusted him too much from the start. He has proved to be a snake in the grass.
    • 1914, William MacLeod Raine, “‘An Optimistic Guy’”, in A Daughter of the Dons: A Story of New Mexico To-day, New York, N.Y.: G. W. Dillingham Company, →OCLC, page 71:
      Is he not here to throw us out—a thief, a spy, a snake in the grass?
    • 1973 June, Charlie Daniels (lyrics and music), “Uneasy Rider”, performed by Charlie Daniels, New York, N.Y.: Kama Sutra Records, →OCLC:
      He's a snake in the grass, I tell you guys / He may look dumb but that's just a disguise / He's a mastermind in the ways of espionage.
    • 1978, John Irving, “The World According to Marcus Aurelius”, in The World According to Garp [] (A Henry Robbins Book), New York, N.Y.: E[dward] P[ayson] Dutton, →ISBN, pages 271–272:
      We were playing in Dallas, when that snake in the grass—Eight Ball, everyone called him—came up on my blind side …
    • 2008 November 21, Bruce Crumley, “Which Woman will Lead France’s Socialists?”, in Time[1], New York, N.Y.: Time Warner Publishing, →ISSN, →OCLC, archived from the original on 2012-01-16:
      Following her presidential defeat, [Ségolène] Royal stunned many observers by publicly dumping Socialist Party leader François Hollande – her companion and the father of her four children – and announcing she'd seek his post during the current election. To some, that made Royal the symbol of the strong, modern woman in politics; to others, it cast her as the classic snake in the grass.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Virgil (1930) “[Eclogue] III”, in H[enry] Rushton Fairclough, transl., Virgil [], volumes I (Eclogues, Georgics, Aeneid I–VI), London: William Heinemann; New York, N.Y.: G[eorge] P[almer] Putnam’s Sons, →OCLC, pages 26–27, lines 92–93:
    Qui legitis flores et humi nascentia fraga, / frigidus, o pueri, fugite hine, latet anguis in herba
    Ye who cull flowers and low-growing strawberries, away from here, lads; a chill snake lurks in the grass.
  2. ^ a snake in the grass” under snake, n.”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, July 2023.
  3. ^ snake in the grass, n.”, in Collins English Dictionary.

Further reading[edit]