idioms - How can I rephrase "enough rope to shoot yourself in the foot"?

23
2014-04
  • pmod

    Some time ago I have a read a very famous book of Allen I. Holub "Enough rope to shoot yourself in the foot" (this book on openlibrary.org). I have read it in Russian and the book was titled with exact, i.e. word-by-word translation of the original English title. And, as you can imagine, it was totally nonsensical. Then I became interested in the meaning of the original title.

    I found out that this is a nice play of two idioms:

    give somebody enough rope (to hang themselves) meaning to allow someone to do what they want to, knowing that they will probably fail or get into trouble

    to shoot yourself in the foot meaning you do something that damages your ambition, career, etc.

    I started to think about better translation, but the question is: can you think of a short phrase in English without idioms to keep the same meaning? It would be also interesting if there are proverbs or set expressions with the same idea.

  • Answers
  • Jim

    Holub employs a mixed metaphor (as Robusto suggested) and the descriptions of the book allude to at least one other expression, which is "just enough to be dangerous" (as in "I/You/They know just enough to be dangerous.").

    As with most metaphors, they are designed to evoke a mental image of equivalence. In this case, Holub appears to be addressing some particular aspects of computer programming where he believes that programmers are knowledgeable enough (enough rope) to be dangerous (shoot foot) and therefore they are "a danger" to the programming world.

    Using a mixed metaphor is often done for humorous effect, which appears to be Holub's intent here. As this review states "Holub manages to make a serious subject refreshingly readable by sprinkling the text with humor and insight."

    If a mixed metaphor like this were to have a commonly used substitute, the substitue would probably lose the full effect of the metaphor. But you might say simply use "Programmers know just enough to be dangerous" (which isn't idiomatic, but requires context), which I already mentioned. Stated alone, it doesn't evoke the same image as a hanging and an unintended discharge of a weapon.

  • Avrohom Yitzchok

    Translation suggested is: "sufficent freedom of action to fail" or "sufficent independence to fail."

  • Andrew Lazarus

    It’s a great book, but you should know that Holub has transitioned away from C++, first to Java, and I think now past that into scripting. Anyway, this book (as you know) is about advanced techniques in C and C++. The book is intended for experienced programmers. So the title is also a warning that newbies need not apply.

    I can't imagine how this play on two metaphors translates into any language that doesn't have those two metaphors already.

  • Hannele

    It's possible I'm reading a little too much into this. However, there is one level where this could be easier to translate, if you take the implication that the risks are not understood by the amateur.

    In other words, there is a possibility to fail in some spectacular fashion entirely unrelated to the assumed dangers, to the amateur that misunderstands the fundamental nature of the tool.

    Perhaps, search for an equivalent set of metaphors in Russian that could be co-opted in a similar way.


  • Related Question

    idioms - How to determine if a "[something] fighter" fights for or against [something]?
  • Gennady Vanin Novosibirsk

    In freedom fighter the fighter supports freedom.
    In fire fighter the fighter fights fire.

    How do you determine when it is the first or the second case?

    What is the meaning of spam fighter?

    @Hellion,
    as the afterthought and in response to comments by @Kosmonaut, and as a person who has lived in a dozen of countries, in the East and the West,
    the positive connotation is highly subjective and culture-specific.

    How should I use "spam fighter" to be understood:

    • in negative connotation?
    • in positive one?

    How to interpret, for example the "culture fighter", "education fighter", "religion fighter"?

    One could tell that this depends on context.
    And if I see this as nicks on the internet?


  • Related Answers
  • Hellion

    The safe way to interpret this sort of thing, especially if the label is self-applied, is to assume the most positive possible connotation: fighting against something bad, or for something good. If someone chooses to label themselves or their product as a spam fighter, then since spam is an undesirable thing, you should assume that they will be fighting against spam.

    Edit to address the follow-up: If you want to be unambiguously understood, it's best to avoid the use of this sort of phrase and spell out exactly what you mean. I think most people would assume that "spam fighter" is someone who fights against spam, while "spammer" is someone who creates spam and probably also fights (in secret, when possible) for the right to continue to do so; but if you want to be absolutely clear about it, you'll need to go ahead and say "fighter against the relentless onslaught of spam e-mails" or "crusader for the right to send unlimited amounts of spam e-mail".

    With the other phrases you mention ("education fighter", "religion fighter", "culture fighter"), there really is no way to determine whether someone is fighting for it or against it without context. In the US, school-based education about various aspects of sex continues to be a very controversial topic, but there's no way to tell if someone who calls themselves a "sex-education fighter" is pro-Sex-Education or anti-Sex-Education based solely on that label. (My personal inclination would be to favor the "fighter against X" interpretation in general, but I wouldn't rely on that.)

  • Carl Smith

    You can just use more specific words, such as attacker and defender.

  • Mari-Lou A

    To answer the latter question:

    How to interpret, for example the "culture fighter", "education fighter", "religion fighter"?

    The English language employs different nouns to convey more successfully the above concepts. Here are two of the more common ones, but there are many others.

    Activist is used to express the concept of an individual or with others who actively campaign for or promote the rights of a minority group or section of society. For example a women's rights activist or a free speech activist.

    Defender likewise is used to convey someone who fights to protect a right or a belief and can also be a person who defends a minority group for example; defender of the Faith or Fedei Defensor, and a Human Rights defender.