‘Takes One To Know One’: Definition, Meaning and Examples

By Sophia Merton, updated on April 4, 2023

Did someone say to you that it 'takes one to know one' and you’re wondering what it means? In this article, we’ll take a look at the meaning, origin, examples, and more.

In short:

  • It ‘takes one to know one’ is a retort used after an insult to imply that the accuser could only be making such a statement if they were guilty of the same fault. 

What Does 'Takes One to Know One' Mean?

The phrase ‘it takes one to know one’ is a retort that one can use when they are the recipient of a negative accusation, which pimples that the accuser also has the same fault. This is considered a childish, and juvenile come back to an insult.

For instance, if your brother says that you’re an idiot, you could say, ‘it takes one to know one,’ implying that only an idiot would be able to recognize another idiot.

Where Does 'Takes One to Know One' Come From?

Using the Google Books Ngram Viewer, we see that 'takes one to know one' was hardly used at all until the early 1940s and that the phrase really started picking up steam during the 1950s.

We find an example of this phrase being used in “Behold the Witness” by Andrew Bowman, published in Frontier in 1952:

“If we bother to justify our adulation of the Witness at all, we do so by repeating the old saw that it takes one to know one. Now, whether this is true or not, it remains a patent fact that one of the surest ways– in any age– of establishing oneself in journalistic power and economic security is by writing a book witnessing for the true faith.”

The August 27, 1975 edition of the periodical Computerworld also uses the phrase:

The old adage, “It takes one to know one,” is pure understatement when referring to the study of the brain– in neurobiology, it takes many “brains” to know even one brain cell. So at the University of Iowa’s Department of Physiology and Biophysics, investigators have joined forces with computer systems in pioneering a method enabling a three-dimensional look at brain cells.”

A 1974 publication from the National Clearinghouse for Alcohol Information of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism also contains this phrase as a part of a story referencing a Mary Worth comic strip:

“I’ve spotted other alcoholic women the past few weeks. It takes one to know one,” suburban housewife Glenna Harwood says in an episode of the popular comic strip Mary Worth. Mrs. Worth responds, “Yes, I’m afraid the incidence is increasing.” Glenna adds, “The causes are the same: depression, boredom, loneliness, marital problems.”

Examples of 'Takes One to Know One' In Sentences

How would 'takes one to know one' be used in a sentence?

Let’s take a look at some examples:

  • “Johnny has no sense of humor. He told me that his neighbor has a drinking problem, and I jokingly said, “it takes one to know one.” He hasn’t spoken to me since.”
  • “She’s a real space cadet– I can tell she’s always lost in a daydream! Oh well, it takes one to know one, I guess.”
  • “Sarah, I can tell you’ve been depressed recently. You haven’t been yourself. Before you get defensive, remember– it takes one to know one.”
  • “Allan came home absolutely fuming after being stuck in traffic. He was going on and on about all of the people on the road with road rage. I said, “it takes one to know one!” After that, he was speechless!”
  • “She is famous for accusing other people of having her most glaring faults. I guess it really is true what they say– it takes one to know one!”
  • “The kids were looking at an old photo album, and Mary said that my great-grandmother looks like a pig. Timmy said, ‘it takes one to know one,’ and Mary has been crying ever since.”

Final Thoughts About 'Takes One to Know One'

The phrase ‘it takes one to know one’ is often considered a childish retort to an insult, but that doesn’t mean you won’t hear it used by adults as well. If someone insults you and you say, ‘it takes one to know one,’ you are implying that they are guilty of the same faults.

Are you ready to learn more English phrases and expand your vocabulary? Be sure to check out our idioms blog for idioms, expressions, sayings, and more!

We encourage you to share this article on Twitter and Facebook. Just click those two links - you'll see why.

It's important to share the news to spread the truth. Most people won't.

Written By:
Sophia Merton
Sophia Merton is one of the lead freelance writers for WritingTips.org. Sophia received her BA from Vassar College. She is passionate about reading, writing, and the written word. Her goal is to help everyone, whether native English speaker or not, learn how to write and speak with perfect English.

Add new comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

WritingTips.org Newsletter
Receive information on
new articles posted, important topics, and tips.
Join Now
We won't send you spam. Unsubscribe at any time.