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

The first law of holes, or the law of holes, is an adage which states: "if you find yourself in a hole, stop digging".[1][2] Digging a hole makes it deeper and therefore harder to get out of, 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 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..."[3]

In 1983 Bill Brock was quoted "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]


  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 Shoveled?". The Bankers Magazine. Warren, Gorham & Lamont. 166 (May–June 1983): 61. 1983. LCCN 89657447. Retrieved 24 November 2020.