Big fleas have little fleas upon their back to bite 'em


      • hierarchy or chain of command
        Illustrate the idea that power and influence can trickle down from larger entities to smaller ones, with the smaller ones often bearing the brunt of the consequences or responsibilities

      • consequences of actions
        Highlight the idea that a seemingly small or insignificant action can have larger consequences or repercussions, similar to how a small flea can cause discomfort for a larger animal

      • continuous cycle or pattern
        Emphasize the idea that certain patterns or behaviors can repeat themselves, with each instance becoming smaller and less significant, but still causing discomfort or harm in some way

    Examples of Big fleas have little fleas upon their back to bite 'em

    • The leading actor's fame has attracted a horde of admirers and fans, just like how big fleas draw little ones that feed on their popularity.

      This idiom compares the impact of a prominent figure's renown to the way bigger fleas carry a collection of smaller fleas that circle around them. In this example, we're using this comparison to explain how the popularity of a famous person can blossom into a large following of devoted fans.

    • There's a small group of students who are causing a nuisance, disturbing the class and constantly misbehaving. Such issues are quite reminiscent of how little fleas can cause a fuss for big ones, only on a smaller scale.

      This analogy appraises the disruptive nature of a small cluster of students in the same vein as how little fleas endlessly bite and torment bigger ones. The idiom helps us understand how even a modest number of troublemakers can cause teething problems for an entire community or group, drawing a parallel from the fleas' behavior.

    • Despite the economic recession's harm caused to small businesses, larger corporations continue to prosper, much like how big fleas don't seem to be affected by their small counterparts.

      This idiom underscores the disparity that can exist between small businesses and larger corporations during trying economic times. The comparison between the fleas is used here to highlight how some companies are not affected by difficulties or challenges that other similar-size organizations face, thereby emphasizing how the smaller ones take a hit while the larger ones continue to thrive.

    • As a senior employee, every newcomer looks to you for guidance and mentorship, which we can relate to how big fleas are meticulously watched and followed by their smaller counterparts.

      This analogy explains how experienced and skilled professionals are looked up to by their lesser-experienced coworkers exactly the way big fleas attract and cultivate little fleas that feed off their knowledge and abilities. The comparison puts into perspective the level of significance that senior employees hold within their organizations, the way big fleas hold considerable weight among their smaller counterparts.

    • Jenny's boss, who was a high-ranking executive in a major corporation, had to deal with a myriad of minor issues on a regular basis, kind of like how big fleas have little fleas upon their back to bite 'em.

      In this example, big fleas refer to the executives in major corporations who have to handle many small issues that arise. Little fleas in this case could be the minor issues themselves that these executives have to deal with.

    • Despite Sarah being a successful artist with a large following, she still encountered criticism from some of her fans, much like how big fleas have little fleas upon their back to bite 'em.

      In this example, big fleas symbolize Sarah, the successful artist, while little fleas represent her critics.

    • Andy's son was accused of copying off his friend during a test, but Andy were not too concerned as he stated that cheating in school is not exactly a crime, and besides, everybody's got little fleas upon their back to bite 'em.

      In this instance, little fleas could be the small misdeeds that children do, and big fleas symbolize the parents who have to deal with their kids' wrongdoings.

    • Although John had achieved great success in his career and had numerous accomplishments to his name, he still felt the need to work harder and better himself, much like how big fleas have little fleas upon their back to bite 'em.

      In this example, little fleas might represent John's shortcomings and imperfections, and big fleas could be the hardworking and driven person that John aspires to be.


    The idiom "big fleas have little fleas upon their back to bite 'em" can be used in various contexts, but all with the underlying theme of hierarchy and consequences. It can be used to advise against certain actions, warn of potential consequences, or simply illustrate a continuous cycle. This idiom is often used in a humorous or sarcastic manner to highlight the irony or absurdity of a situation.

    Origin of "Big fleas have little fleas upon their back to bite 'em"

    This idiom is believed to have originated from a poem by Augustus De Morgan, a British mathematician and logician, in the late 19th century. The full poem goes as follows:

    "Great fleas have little fleas upon their backs to bite 'em, And little fleas have lesser fleas, and so ad infinitum. And the great fleas themselves, in turn, have greater fleas to go on; While these again have greater still, and greater still, and so on."

    The idea behind the poem is that there is always someone or something above us, and we are all connected in a never-ending cycle. The use of fleas as a metaphor highlights the idea of hierarchy and power dynamics, with the larger fleas representing those in positions of power and the smaller fleas representing those lower down in the chain.

    This idiom has since been used in various contexts, but its origins in the poem by De Morgan remain the same. It serves as a reminder to be mindful of our actions and the potential consequences, as well as the idea that no one is truly at the top of the hierarchy.