Do As I Say, Not What I Do – Meaning, Origin & Correct Usage

You might have used the phrase “Do as I say, not what I do” and wondered about its meaning and origin. Let’s learn more about this saying.

You may have heard someone use the phrase “do as I say not what I do” for the first time and thought it was hypocritical. Shouldn’t people lead by example?

This saying is an old proverb that has been used since the 1600s. It is intended to illustrate hypocrisy but is often used by parents as a reprimand when children repeat unsavory or risky behavior.

As all parents will know, on occasion, we act out of habit or in a way we may regret or would prefer our children hadn’t witnessed; at times like these, this saying is invaluable!

It can also be used to illustrate to children that adults act differently due to age and experience and that children should not replicate all behavior. However, this can backfire, as children notoriously repeat what they see rather than do what they are told!

Lee Hanley once said:

Parents must lead by example. Don’t use the cliche; ‘do as I say and not as I do.’ We are our children’s first and most important role models.

Let’s learn more about the history of this phrase and how to use it correctly. Then you can decide if you ever want to use it with your children!

You might also enjoy our article, Birds Of A Feather Flock Together – Proverb Meaning & Origin.

What Does “Do As I Say Not What I Do” Mean?

What does “do as I say, not what I do” mean?
A good example of using this phrase is “As your boss, I’m allowed to sign on late. Do as I say, not what I do.”

This saying is used to address hypocrisy. An individual might say it to acknowledge that they’re being hypocritical. For example, you could say it if you made a mistake that you want others to learn from. You can also use it as a sarcastic retort to point out someone else’s hypocrisy.

This saying can act as an admonitory order by people with authority who believe they should be held to a different standard. It’s often said by parents to children or by a manager to an employee.

Below are some example sentences with this phrase:

  • I know I ate a treat before dinner, but I’m the adult here. Do as I say, not what I do.
  • Don’t try to cheat in that teacher’s class; he almost expelled me for getting caught; do as I say, not what I do.
  • As your boss, I’m allowed to sign on late. Do as I say, not what I do.
  • You can’t be mad at me when you did the exact same thing first. ‘Do as I say, not what I do,’ right?

Is Do As I Say Not What I Do An Idiom?

As mentioned earlier, “Do as I say, not what I do,” is a proverb. A proverb is a traditional or old turn of phrase that illustrates a fact of life or imparts some wisdom.

While some people say it is an idiom, it’s not fully accurate. An idiom is a piece of figurative language that has been assigned a meaning, even though the phrase might not make any literal sense.

It’s better described as an admonition, meaning a warning or piece of advice. Due to how common this saying is, it’s also considered a cliché.

Do As I Say Not What I Do Origin

This phrase first appeared in the 1600s in John Selden‘s Table-Talk: Being the Discourses of John Selden. The original passage was: “Preachers say, ‘Do as I say, not as I do.’ But if a physician had the same disease upon him that I have, and he should bid me do one thing and he do quite another, could I believe him?

Released posthumously, the work is a collection of essays detailing Selden’s opinions on religion, morality, and political matters.

The saying caught on with the general public and is still in use today. You will also hear people phrase it as “do as I say and not as I do,” or “do as I say, not as I do.”

You might be interested in our afterward vs. afterwards explainer.

Do As I Say Not What I Do Synonyms

Finding the correct synonyms for this phrase depends on the point you’re trying to convey. If you wanted to draw attention to hypocrisy, you would find the following words in a thesaurus:

  • Hypocrites
  • Double standard
  • Sanctimonious
  • Humbug
  • Insincerity
  • Duplicity

If you wanted to advise someone not to repeat your own behavior, you could say the following:

  • Learn from my mistakes.
  • Don’t make the same mistakes.
  • Don’t follow my lead.
  • Do better than I did.
  • Don’t learn it the hard way.
  • I’m not a good role model.

There isn’t a phrase that is the direct opposite or a counter to “do as I say, not what I do.” The closet would be “actions speak louder than words,” or “you are what you do, not what you say you do.”

Do As I Say Not What I Do: FAQs

Is “Do As I Say, Not What I Do,” In The Bible?

The saying “do as I say, not what I do” is not in the Bible. The passages “The hardest task for leaders is to say, ‘Imitate me,’” and “I urge you, then, be imitators of me” appear in Corinthians, which express the opposite sentiment. Some Christians will say, “Do as I say, not as I do,” to call out those who don’t practice what they preach.