As a dog returns to his vomit, so a fool repeats his folly
"As a dog returns to his vomit, so a fool repeats his folly" is an aphorism which appears in the Book of Proverbs in the Bible — Proverbs 26:11, also quoted in the New Testament, 2 Peter 2:22. It means that fools are stubbornly inflexible and this is illustrated with the repulsive simile of the dog that eats its vomit again, even though this may be poisonous. Dogs were considered unclean in Biblical times as they were commonly scavengers of the dead and they appear in the Bible as repugnant creatures, symbolising evil. The reference to vomit indicates excessive indulgence and so also symbolises revulsion.
The "fool" spoken of is a person lacking moral behavior or discipline, just as the "wise" person in Proverbs is one who knows to (or knows how to) behave wisely. There is not necessarily any connection to intelligence in the modern sense.
The Greek translation in the Septuagint developed the idea, imbuing it with a sense of shame and guilt, "As when a dog goes to his own vomit and becomes abominable, so is a fool who returns in his wickedness to his own sin." This was due to the contemporary idea of the fool as ungodly.
Saint Peter refers to the proverb in his second epistle (2 Peter 2:22), "But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire." Kipling cites this in his poem The Gods of the Copybook Headings as one of several classic examples of repeated folly:
|“||As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man
There are only four things certain since Social Progress began.
That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,
And the burnt Fool's bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire;
The proverb is a favourite of the British politician Ken Livingstone who used it on the occasion of his failure to rejoin the Labour Party in 2002. It was also used on occasion in the Parliament of Australia by Paul Keating, in reference to his political opponents.
In the TV programme "Endeavour" (the prequel to Inspector Morse) in the episode titled "Home" Endeavour returns to his family home to visit his sick father. He goes with his sister Joyce to a pub for a drink and the following is part of their conversation: Joyce: "Why did you go back to Oxford?" Endeavour: "Oh! A policeman goes where he's sent." J: "When I told Pop, he just said, "Proverbs 26:11"." E: "Well I've many faults, God knows, but I try to draw the line at masochism. Besides, traditionally it's the killer that returns to the scene of the crime, not the .. Whatever I was."
- Bruce K. Waltke (2005), The Book of Proverbs: Chapters 15–31, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, p. 354, ISBN 978-0-8028-2776-0
- James McNab McCrimmon (1973), Writing with a purpose, Houghton Mifflin, p. 144, ISBN 978-0-395-17740-2
- Sophia Menache (1997), "Dogs: God's Worst Enemies?", Society and Animals 5 (1): 23–44, doi:10.1163/156853097X00204
- Tova Forti (2008), "Dog and Fool", Animal imagery in the book of Proverbs, ISBN 978-90-04-16287-7
- Leland Ryken, Jim Wilhoit, James C. Wilhoit, Tremper Longman, Colin Duriez, Douglas Penney, Daniel G. Reid (1998), Dictionary of biblical imagery, InterVarsity Press, p. 296, ISBN 978-0-8308-1451-0
- Tova Forti (June 2007), "Conceptual Stratification in LXX Prov 26,11: Toward Identifying the Tradents Behind the Aphorism", Zeitschrift für die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 119 (2): 241–258, doi:10.1515/ZAW.2007.019, ISSN 1613-0103
- Albert Barnes (1852), Notes, explanatory and practical, on the general epistles of James, Peter, John and Jude, p. 285
- Paul Waugh (24 July 2002), Livingstone vents his fury as his bid to rejoin Labour fails, The Independent
- Piers Akerman (Sep 26, 2006), "The half wit, wisdom of a failed intellect", The Daily Telegraph,
In 1990, Paul Keating famously accused Wilson Tuckey of being "a dog returning to its own vomit" ...
- Endeavour Season 1 Episode 4 May 5th 2013.