Even a worm will turn Even the meekest and humblest person will eventually be goaded into retaliation. Even the meekest person can be roused to retaliate.
The allusion is to the fact that when a lowly earthworm is dug up or its tail trodden on, it instinctively writhes, turning back upon itself and appearing to threaten its attacker.
William Shakespeare is believed to have alluded to this proverb when he wrote
The smallest worm will turn, being trodden on.
(Henry the Sixth, Part Three, Act 2, scene ii, 1593)
Some people argue that the proverb was coined in the days when the word ' worm' could be applied equally to a viper. In that case the proverb means that those who have the ability to fight back would certainly do so if provoked.