Law of holes

The first law of holes, or the law of holes, is an adage which states: "if you find yourself in a hole, stop digging".[1][2][3][4] Digging a hole makes it deeper and therefore harder to get out of, which is used as a metaphor that when in an untenable position, it is best to stop making the situation worse.[5][6][7] More generally, it advises how one should solve problems of their own making.

Photograph of a backhoe that is over fifty percent submerged in a large hole that it dug in a peat bog before falling in.
An excavator that is in a hole and has stopped digging

The second law of holes is commonly known as: "when you stop digging, you are still in a hole".[8]


The adage has been attributed to a number of sources. It appeared in print on page six of The Washington Post dated 25 October 1911, in the form: "Nor would a wise man, seeing that he was in a hole, go to work and blindly dig it deeper..."[9][10]

In 1983, Bill Brock was quoted "Let me tell you about the law of holes: If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging."[11]

In the United Kingdom, it has been referred to as "Healey's first law of holes"[2] after politician Denis Healey, who used the adage in the 1980s and later.[1]


  1. ^ a b Apperson, George Latimer (2006). The Wordsworth Dictionary of Proverbs. Ware: Wordsworth Editions. p. 283. ISBN 978-1840223118.
  2. ^ a b Lloyd, John; Hargreaves, Ian (8 November 1996). "Interview: Denis Healey; Healey's first law of holes is to stop digging". New Statesman. 9. Archived from the original on 28 July 2014. Retrieved 25 July 2014 – via HighBeam Business.
  3. ^ Speake, Jennifer (23 October 2008). A Dictionary of Proverbs. OUP Oxford. ISBN 978-0-19-158001-7.
  4. ^ The Dictionary of Modern Proverbs. Yale University Press. 22 May 2012. ISBN 978-0-300-18335-1.
  5. ^ Speake, Jennifer (24 September 2015). Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs. OUP Oxford. ISBN 978-0-19-105959-9.
  6. ^ "What is the meaning of [If you're in a hole, stop digging] » Learn English Idioms and Proverbs » YThi". YThi. Retrieved 14 August 2021.
  7. ^ Moore, Merton (4 December 1920). Stop Digging—Climb. XVII. Holstein-Friesian World. p. 34. I have studied this situation thoroughly in five states and in close relation to hundreds of dairymen and the answer to 'Hard Times' is 'If you are in a hole, stop digging - raise your head - open your eyes - think - study -climb.'
  8. ^ Tech, Tech With (23 October 2020). "The 5 Laws of Holes (+ Examples for Each)". Tech With Tech. Retrieved 14 August 2021.
  9. ^ Doyle, Charles Clay; Mieder, Wolfgang; Shapiro, Fred R. (2012). The Dictionary of Modern Proverbs. New Haven: Yale University Press. ISBN 9780300136029.
  10. ^ "Letting Bryan Down Easy". The Washington Post. 25 October 1911. p. 6. Retrieved 12 September 2021 – via
  11. ^ "Is That Dirt Being Shoveled?". The Bankers Magazine. Warren, Gorham & Lamont. 166 (May–June 1983): 61. 1983. LCCN 89657447. Retrieved 24 November 2020.