By in Animals

Phrase Origins: A Nest of Vipers

ABSTRACT: Do you not want people to join gangs or other groups with bad influences? Do you call these groups a nest of vipers?


The phrase "a nest of vipers" means a group of sinful people or a group of bad people. It can also be used to mean animals or other living things that are bad or cause danger.

It is thought that it was in 1644 that the phrase "a nest of vipers" was first used. It may be the first time that the phrase was used exactly. However, it is definitely not the first time the idea was used.

Calling somebody a snake was always an insult. It referred to the secretive way of snakes. A viper was poisonous, so calling somebody a viper was a serious insult.

Robert Greene used the phrase in his 1591 work, The Art of Conny Catching . He wrote, "These villanous vipers, vnworthy the name of men, base roagues,... being outcasts from God, vipers of the world, and an excremental reuersion of sin."

Some people like to believe the phrase only existed from 1526 when William Tindale had a translation of the Bible. However, the phrase is much older. While the word "nest" does not appear in the original Greek, the word "brood" does appear. A brood means a group, so a brood would be a bunch of vipers as would be found in a nest.

The phrase comes from Matthew 3:7. The original Greek is "γεννήματα" and "ἐχιδνῶν" or transliterated, "gennÄ“mata" and "echidnōn." These mean "brood, and "of vipers" respectively.

Other ways this has been translated is "brood of snakes," "offspring of vipers" and "poisonous snakes."


Brood - Definition and More from the Free Merriam-Webster Dictionary. (n.d.). Dictionary and Thesaurus - Merriam-Webster Online . Retrieved February 11, 2011, from

Martin, G. (n.d.). A nest of vipers. The meanings and origins of sayings and phrases . Retrieved February 11, 2011, from

Matthew 3:7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?. (n.d.). Online Parallel Bible: Weaving God's Word into the Web . Retrieved February 11, 2011, from

Matthew 3:7 Greek Texts and Analysis. (n.d.). Search, Read, Study the Bible in Many Languages . Retrieved February 11, 2011, from

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AngelSharum wrote on August 16, 2014, 11:11 PM

I've heard the phrase some, but never use it myself.

Scorpie wrote on August 17, 2014, 7:34 PM

Moving into a neighborhood with bush-cheney signs in every yard.

margielynn wrote on September 16, 2014, 8:51 PM

It has been a long time since I hear this phrase, like the info!