Learn idioms with comprehensive meaning, examples and origin details.


fish rots from the head down

a or the fish rots from the head down


  • It refers to failing organizations and how the blame of it should be on its ‘head’ that is its leadership.
  • It does not talk about the biology of the fishes and should not be used as a literal meaning. This is because an actual fish starts to rot from its guts and not head according to piscine biology.

Example Sentences

  1. The company was bound to be closed sooner or later considering the kind of mangers that they had hired. A fish rots from the head down after all.
  2. A leader has to be of a strong will and good character otherwise as it is said, the fish rots from the head down. The whole organization would then have to suffer because of it.
  3. His maid servant doesn’t do anything as asked for. But the fish rots from the head down, look at how unorganized his own life is.

Although not certain, the origination of this proverb may be associated with Sir James Porter’s work that was published in 1768 called ‘Observations on the religion, law, government, and manners of the Turks’. It is a popularly used for big organizations nowadays instead of for individuals. But using it for individuals would not be wrong.

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