Law of holes

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Photograph of a backhoe that is over fifty percent submerged in a large hole that it dug in a peat bog before falling in.
An excavator that is in a hole and has stopped digging, but perhaps not soon enough

The first law of holes, or the law of holes, is an adage which states that "if you find yourself in a hole, stop digging".[1][2] Digging a hole makes it deeper and therefore harder to get back out, which is used as a metaphor that when in an untenable position, it is best to stop carrying on and exacerbating the situation.


The adage has been attributed to a number of sources. It appeared in print on page six of The Washington Post dated October 25, 1911, in the form: "Nor would a wise man, seeing that he was in a hole, go to work and blindly dig it deeper..."[3] In The Bankers magazine, it was published in 1964 as: "Let me tell you about the law of holes: If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging."[4]

In the United Kingdom, it has been referred to as "Healey's first law of holes"[2] after politician Denis Healey, who used the adage in the 1980s and later.[1] Some sources misattribute the phrase to American humorist Will Rogers.[5]


  1. ^ a b Apperson, George Latimer (2006). The Wordsworth Dictionary of Proverbs. Ware: Wordsworth Editions. p. 283. ISBN 978-1840223118.
  2. ^ a b Lloyd, John; Hargreaves, Ian (8 November 1996). "Interview: Denis Healey; Healey's first law of holes is to stop digging". New Statesman. 9. Archived from the original on 28 July 2014. Retrieved 25 July 2014 – via HighBeam Business.
  3. ^ Doyle, Charles Clay; Mieder, Wolfgang; Shapiro, Fred R. (2012). The Dictionary of Modern Proverbs. New Haven: Yale University Press. ISBN 9780300136029.
  4. ^ "Is That Dirt Being Shovelled?". The Bankers Magazine. 166: 61. 1964.
  5. ^ Will Rogers Legacy. California Department of Parks and Recreation

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