There are many definitions of the phrase “Let Sleeping Dogs Lie”.
Origin: 14th Century, British English – This expression goes back to biblical times since the concept is mentioned in the Book of Proverbs. Its first appearance in print was in 1340 when Chaucer used it in one of his works.
Idiomatic Meaning: Don’t start trouble if you don’t need to. Leave well enough alone. If a situation is potentially painful, leave it alone.
Literal Meaning: Waking a sleeping dog, especially a big, mean guard dog, can result in getting bitten, so why ask for trouble by waking the dog?
Why is this funny? In the photo we see a dog asleep in a court room where there appears to be a trial going on. The dog is supposed to be a witness at the trial and the judge wants someone to awaken him to testify. However one of the lawyers objects, saying that the dog will not tell the truth; in other words it will lie. The humour is in the homonym “lie”, which can mean to remain in a horizontal resting position as well as tell an untruth. Waking the dog could mean trouble for one side in the court case, so it’s better to “let sleeping dogs lie” and stay asleep or to take the witness stand and commit perjury.
For centuries in Ireland the meaning of this idiom was to leave a family tragedy hidden deep in the heart and never speak about it again so as not to revisit the trauma and prolong the grief.
The history of this idiom can date back to 1374 when Geoffray Chaucer said “It is nought good a sleeping hound wake”. However, the Celtic Druids stated before then that a good trait of a Druid was “not to disturb a sleeping animal”, meaning that a suitable druid can leave an argument be by agreeing to disagree.
In my book ‘DARK SECRETS’ (From the Grave) there are quite a few old tragic family secrets that were banished to the heart’s deepest caverns, locked away forever. But when author, Doreen Bracken, was on her ‘Stairway to Heaven’ she decided to dig them up and reveal all.
The dog was awoken and she could die happy and rest in peace.