Don’t Dish It Out If You Can’t Take It

An Insightful Look at a Timeless Expression

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They say “Don’t dish it out if you can’t take it,” but have you ever wondered where this saying comes from? Let’s dive into the origins and meanings of this proverb and explore its relevance in our daily lives.

What Does Someone Mean When They Say, ‘Don’t Dish It Out If You Can’t Take It’?

The phrase “Don’t dish it out if you can’t take it” can be interpreted in three different ways:

  1. Literally serving food: In the culinary world, it advises cooks not to serve any dish they wouldn’t eat themselves.
  2. Distributing something: This can include advice, information, money, or news – a positive connotation.
  3. Giving out abuse, criticism, insults, or punishments: This sense focuses on how people treat one another, especially verbally. An alternative version of the saying is “You can dish it out, but you can’t take it.”

The third meaning is the most commonly understood. It refers to individuals who express harsh thoughts, criticize others, or insult them while being unable to handle even a fraction of the abuse they dish out. Essentially, this saying highlights the hypocrisy and lack of fairness in such behavior, similar to the idiom “People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.”

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When Did This Saying Originate?

While information on the origin of this idiom is scarce, two sources suggest it emerged in the early 20th century.

Christine Ammer’s The American Heritage┬« Dictionary of Idioms, cited by The Free Dictionary, states that the slang term in the third sense came to life in the 1930s.

The Online Etymology Dictionary supports this information with its entry on the word “dish.” According to this source, the phrase “dish out,” originally meaning “to serve food” and dating back to the late 14th century, began to be used to “administer punishment” around 1934. It later evolved to encompass the meaning of “to disparage or denigrate” in the 1940s.

Do I Like This Idiom?

Absolutely! I find this saying to be a tasteful retort.

Often, people are quick to criticize others while ignoring their own faults. This behavior can serve as both a coping mechanism and a distraction. However, when someone is told, “Don’t dish it out if you can’t take it,” it serves as a gentle reminder of their rudeness and hypocrisy. When delivered effectively and received with openness, it can soften their stance and lead to positive changes.

Works Cited

  • The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer. 2003, 1997. The Christine Ammer 1992 Trust. Retrieved 7 Oct 2018.
  • “Dish out – Idioms by The Free Dictionary.” The Free Dictionary. Farlex, Inc. Web. Retrieved 7 October 2018. 5 WS.
  • Harper, Douglas. “dish | Origin and meaning of dish at Online Etymology Dictionary.” Online Etymology Dictionary. Web. Retrieved 7 October 2018. 5 WS.
  • “What do the words ‘Don’t Dish it Out if You can’t Take It’ mean?” Answers.com. Web. Retrieved 7 Oct 2018. 5 WS.
  • “You can dish it out, but you can’t take it – Idioms by The Free Dictionary.” The Free Dictionary. Farlex, Inc. Web. Retrieved 7 Oct 2018. 5 WS.
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