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Law of holes

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Photograph of a backhoe that is over half submerged in a large hole that it dug in a peat bog before falling in.
An excavator that is in a hole and, per the Law of Holes, has stopped digging.

The law of holes, or the first law of holes, is an adage which states: "if you find yourself in a hole, stop digging." It is used as a metaphor, warning that when in an untenable position, it is best to stop making the situation worse.[1][2]


When it is said, "if you find yourself in a hole, stop digging",[3][4][1][5] it is because digging a hole makes it deeper and therefore harder to get out of. More generally, the adage advises how one should solve problems of their own making.

The second law of holes is commonly known as: "when you stop digging, you are still in a hole."[6]


The adage has been attributed to a number of sources. It appeared in print on page six of The Washington Post dated 25 October 1911, in the form: "Nor would a wise man, seeing that he was in a hole, go to work and blindly dig it deeper..."[7][8]

In 1983, Bill Brock was quoted "Let me tell you about the law of holes: If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging."[9]

In the United Kingdom, it has been referred to as "Healey's first law of holes"[4] after politician Denis Healey, who used the adage in the 1980s and later.[3]


On 4 May 2024, British politician Suella Braverman wrote in The Telegraph: “The hole to dig us out is the PM’s, and it’s time for him to start shovelling.”[10] According to The Guardian, this sentence “does not make sense.”[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Speake, Jennifer (2015). "When you are in a hole, stop digging". Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs (6 ed.). ISBN 978-0-19-873490-1.
  2. ^ Moore, Merton (4 December 1920). Stop Digging—Climb. Vol. XVII. Holstein-Friesian World. p. 34. Archived from the original on 26 December 2021. Retrieved 17 November 2021. I have studied this situation thoroughly in five states and in close relation to hundreds of dairymen and the answer to 'Hard Times' is 'If you are in a hole, stop digging - raise your head - open your eyes - think - study -climb.'
  3. ^ a b Apperson, George Latimer (2006). The Wordsworth Dictionary of Proverbs. Ware: Wordsworth Editions. p. 283. ISBN 978-1840223118.
  4. ^ a b Lloyd, John; Hargreaves, Ian (8 November 1996). "Interview: Denis Healey; Healey's first law of holes is to stop digging". New Statesman. Vol. 9.
  5. ^ The Dictionary of Modern Proverbs. Yale University Press. 22 May 2012. ISBN 978-0-300-18335-1. Archived from the original on 26 December 2021. Retrieved 17 November 2021.
  6. ^ Tech With Tech (23 October 2020). "The 5 Laws of Holes (+ Examples for Each)". Tech With Tech. Archived from the original on 14 August 2021. Retrieved 14 August 2021.
  7. ^ Doyle, Charles Clay; Mieder, Wolfgang; Shapiro, Fred R. (2012). The Dictionary of Modern Proverbs. New Haven: Yale University Press. ISBN 9780300136029.
  8. ^ "Letting Bryan Down Easy". The Washington Post. 25 October 1911. p. 6. Archived from the original on 13 September 2021. Retrieved 12 September 2021 – via newspapers.com.
  9. ^ "Is That Dirt Being Shoveled?". The Bankers Magazine. Vol. 166, no. May–June 1983. Warren, Gorham & Lamont. 1983. p. 61. LCCN 89657447. Archived from the original on 26 December 2021. Retrieved 24 November 2020.
  10. ^ Braverman, Suella (4 May 2024). "The Tories must change course, or be wiped out". The Telegraph. ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 5 May 2024.
  11. ^ Sparrow, Andrew (5 May 2024). "Braverman tells Sunak to 'own' dismal election results and 'fix it' but says it's too late for Tories to change leader – as it happened". the Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 5 May 2024.