On this SE there have been many interesting questions about Russian equivalents of various idiomatic expressions and proverbs of the French language and other languages, and I decided to make my own contribution to this excellent genre.

Here is a Chinese expression:

能骗就骗 (Néng piàn jiù piàn)

The literal meaning is: If you can trick/cheat, then trick/cheat.

The idea is that there is no reason to be honest just for the sake of being honest. That is, if you can benefit from a dishonest action and know that you definitely won't suffer any financial, reputational, or other damage that outweighs the benefit, then you should act dishonestly. To put it simply, if you can cheat and get away with it, then cheat.

How is this idea commonly/idiomatically expressed in Russian?

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Quassnoi
    Jul 1, 2019 at 8:15
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Quassnoi
    Jul 1, 2019 at 8:17
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    Please don't post answers or comments disputing how accurately does this particular saying reflect the "Chinese mentality" (whatever would it be). If you know of a Russian equivalent of this saying and the context it's properly used in, please feel free to post it as your answer, or upvote any of the existing ones. If you think that there is no Russian equivalent for this, post it as an answer, with analysis and references.
    – Quassnoi
    Jul 1, 2019 at 8:30
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    If you think that the question is based on a wrong premise but can be improved, suggest an edit. If you think the question can't be salvaged, vote for deletion. Thanks!
    – Quassnoi
    Jul 1, 2019 at 8:31
  • A lot of comments use unofficial slang or swearing words, but I agree that the closest is: Не пойман - не вор. Not caught - not a thief. There will be no punishment if nobody knows or if nobody cares.
    – magnump0
    Jul 22, 2020 at 19:18

7 Answers 7


Не наебёшь — не проживёшь

This literally means "if you don't fuck people over, you don't survive".

The meaning of this proverb is slightly different from the Chinese one, as it's more about moral justification of cheating rather than pure utility, but otherwise I think it's a good analog.

Elaborating on some suggestions from the comments:

Не пойман — не вор

This literally means "you're not a criminal until you got caught", pretty much straightforward.

Поймал лоха — бей до смерти

This is an equivalent to English "never give a sucker an even break".

Готтентотская мораль

This literally means "Hottentot morality".

It's a racial prejudice, attributing self-centered view on morality to the Khoikhoi people. This kind of world view is best expressed with another proverb: "if you steal my cow, this is bad; if I steal your cow, this is good".

  • Great, this seems to be close indeed!
    – Mitsuko
    Jun 28, 2019 at 13:04
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    Без лоха жизнь плоха
    – Anixx
    Jul 3, 2019 at 12:18

Somewhat similar: «Не обманешь -- не продашь», that is, "no trick, no sale".

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    не наебёшь - не проживёшь Jun 28, 2019 at 13:01
  • Wow, this is finally something close!
    – Mitsuko
    Jun 28, 2019 at 13:02
  • @Mitsuko it's even harsher - because it's telling basically that cheating is the only winning strategy
    – shabunc
    Jun 28, 2019 at 13:21
  • "Хочешь жить - умей вертеться"
    – Alexander
    Jun 28, 2019 at 16:16
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    @Alexander «вертеться» не значит «обманывать».
    – mustaccio
    Jun 28, 2019 at 16:23

I still think that this proverb is awful, however I can think of one or two expressions that at least partially have the same meaning.

One is "победителей не судят" - the winners can not be judged. It means that if you overpowered your rivals it's already doesn't really matter how exactly you've won. It's attributed to Empress of Russia Catherine the Great however most likely it's a historical anecdote.

The other one - "в борьбе все средства/цели хороши" or "цель опрадывает средства" - and this was said by Machiavelli. Well, Machiavelli was a cynical guy, pretty much a medieval Frank Underwood.

UPD: user @user1516873 suggested excellent expression - indeed, "не пойман - не вор" is exactly about if you were not caught - it's fine. See, after all we do have such phrase )))

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    also "Не пойман - не вор" Jun 28, 2019 at 11:10
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    "Не пойман - не вор" is just a way to formulate the presumption of innocence, a principle of justice, it has nothing to do with the advice to cheat which we see in the Chinese saying.
    – Yellow Sky
    Jun 28, 2019 at 12:52
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    @YellowSky : Yes, I want a Russian equivalent of "cheat whenever you can."
    – Mitsuko
    Jun 28, 2019 at 12:55
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    @Mitsuko, no worries!!! In fact, after all answers provided (including mine) - I’ve realized that we have pretty much similar expressions, and I was wrong rushing into conclusions.
    – shabunc
    Jun 28, 2019 at 18:53
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    @Mitsuko - also, thank you this additional information - it was very helpful!
    – shabunc
    Jun 28, 2019 at 21:14

To add to the other answers:

  • Если слышен денег шелест - значит, лох пошел на нерест. (If you hear a rustle of money, it means a salmon is going to spawn.)

"Лох" is an old word for a salmon, but nowadays is used as a synonym for a fool. The proverb connects these two meanings. A salmon is an easy prey during the period of spawning.

  • Без лоха и жизнь плоха. (Life is bad without fools.)

This is a view on fools as a source of profit.

  • Нет понятия "спиздили", есть понятие "проебал". (There is no such thing as "they stole", but there is such a thing as "you lost.")

This phrase is usually used with the addition "в армии" ("in the army") at the beginning of the sentence and means that every soldier is responsible for his own private belongings. The phrase is sometimes used outside the army, too, and shows the mentality that the guilty side is the victim because he made it possible for the crime to happen by not protecting himself and his belongings.

  • На дурака не нужен нож. (You do not need a knife to deal with a fool.)

This phrase is originally from a famous Russian cartoon for children, "Буратино", and is used to say that you do not need to use brute force to get from a fool what you want. You can just tell him any lies, and he will buy them. The original song from the cartoon is:

Покуда есть на свете дураки,

Обманом жить нам, стало быть, с руки.

Какое небо голубое,

Мы не сторонники разбоя:

На дурака не нужен нож,

Ему с три короба наврешь —

И делай с ним, что хошь!

Translation: "As long as there are fools, it is practical for us to live by trickery. What a blue sky, and we are not proponents of plunder: You do not need a knife to deal with a fool, since you can tell him any lies and then do with him whatever you want."


I think this one is closest to what you're trying to say.

"С волками жить - по-волчьи выть"

lit. (when living with wolves, howl like a wolf.)
Wolves are usually seen as inherently vile creatures. Here it may be used as a metaphor for keeping bad company.

more related proverbs:

"Где говорят деньги, там молчит совесть"

lit. (where money talks, the conscience is silent)
meaning: no point moralising, because all business is dirty business

"В деньгах родства нет" / "В игре не без хитрости"

lit. (there's no kin in money) / (no game is without a catch)
meaning: Every business transaction is inherently exploitative. The other person is trying to cheat you, so don't bother showing kindness / charity

"Дуракам закон не писан"

lit. (the law wasn't written for fools)
meaning: I'm too simple a person to bother with something as fancy as laws or rules.
note: the actual meaning is different, but it can be said in a sarcastic, self-deprecating way


Деньги не пахнут [Money does not smell]

  • meaning you can use all legal, or semi-legal, or immoral ways of getting profit.
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    applicable, however it worth to mention that this is, of course, originally not a Russian saying.
    – shabunc
    Jul 1, 2019 at 14:42

The Chinese proverb really means, "if the rules are not being actually enforced by the authorities or followed by the people, just go ahead." This is a reality of human existence, like everyone knows jaywalking is illegal everywhere, but we all do it, depending on whether the other people do it or not in a specific town.

But, when would the Chinese use this proverb? Say a high school teacher finds out the contents of tomorrow's math exam and lets the students know it, and most students copy down the solutions, this is the situation where the proverb would be used to convince the moral doubter that it is OK. (Why would the teacher do it? Because teachers are paid bonuses for good performance of their students on state exams)

I can't think of a Russian equivalent, but maybe someone else can think of something better. Here is a Greek one: "When the cat is sleeping, the mice are partying".

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    There is a direct Russian equivalent to the Greek one: кот из дома — мыши в пляс
    – Quassnoi
    Jul 1, 2019 at 13:36

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