Snake in the Grass – Meaning?

A keelback snake in the grass - harmless and not going to hurt anyone, even if you step on it.
One harmless SNAKE IN THE GRASS is this keelback. Even if you stepped on this snake and it bit (which it might not even try), you’ll be fine. Not all snakes in the grass are harmful.

A common phrase and saying in the USA is to say someone is a real SNAKE IN THE GRASS. Why is that? What does it mean?

The Meaning of “Snake in the Grass”

Snakes cause fear in most people because they just don’t understand them. I mean, there isn’t that much to understand on the surface, they are animals that eat other animals and they prefer to stay FAR away from human beings. They have no reason to bite humans except that we make them fearful. OK, that’s that.

A snake in the grass is a saying to caution someone against someone’s ulterior motives, personality, intentions, etc. A snake in the grass is supposed to mean someone with bad intentions, someone who is a sneaky devil who is going to pull something over on someone who is unsuspecting.

A snake lays in the grass without bothering anyone. When someone steps on it, and the snake bites, the person thinks that snake was just WAITING there in the grass to bite someone. Hence the saying, like a snake in the grass.

Snakes are so misunderstood. The problem in many places, like Thailand, is that we have SO MANY snakes that it’s impossible to educate the public about this snake being potentially dangerous and that one being completely harmless. Even among people who know something about snakes, snake hobbyists, there are often times when a snake is hard to identify. It takes a long time to get up to speed with exactly what defines a dangerous snake in the grass, so to speak.

Origin of the Snake in the Grass Phrase?

The Roman poet “Virgil” in 37 b.c. in his poem with the Latin words “Latet Anguis in Herba.” Seriously. Before Christ was born, this guy made up the saying to mean a dangerous snake (venomous snake) waiting in the grass to bite someone.

In the USA, the phrase was first used in the title of a book by Charles Leslie, called “Snake in the Grass” in 1696.

For our purposes here, snake in the grass just means a snake in the grass. A treacherous person, one who means harm, is known as a deviant.

Vern

Snake posts by Vern Lovic. Amateur herpetologist roaming about Thailand on field herping tours and events to find king cobras, kraits, vipers, corals, keelbacks, and other snakes native to Thailand. FYI - Thailand has over 200 snake species. Here's our latest book with detailed information on Thailand's 35 Deadly Snakes. "Is That Snake In Your House Dangerous? Identify Deadly Thailand Snakes In Under 5 Minutes!" INFO HERE.

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