Meaning of Snake in the Grass

A snake in the grass is an expression used to refer to a shady or unethical person. Its meaning is simple: it gives the qualities associated with the snake to a person. If you say my colleague is a snake in the grass who would betray me at a moment’s notice, you’re explaining to someone that your colleague is a deceitful, lying individual who is not to be trusted.


This saying originates from the Roman poet Publius Vergilius Maro, better known as Vergil or Virgil, where he wrote a snake lurks in the grass. Virgil was considered one of Rome’s finest poets. By the Middle Ages, he was practically considered a legend.

The word snake comes from the Old English scana. The word grass comes from the Old English græs.

Uses of Snake in the Grass

You can use this expression when want you want to insult someone without using the more crude words of the English language.

Take, for example, this phrase: so how’s old snake-in-the-grass John?

It can also be a part of a whole set of insults, such as in this sentence: that yellowbellied, snake-in-the-grass, disgusting, repulsive shell of a man does not deserve my respect.

It can also be used in conversation as a question: “like a snake in the grass?”.

Another use of this expression is to directly tell someone to their face that they’re shady: I believe you’re a snake in the grass.

You can also make an insult sting even more: you snake-in-the-grass bastard!

Can you think of more uses for this wonderful (and poisonous) idiom?

Whatever you do, try to keep in mind that this is basically an insult! You don’t want to go saying it to the wrong people.