Exercise Caution With These Telltale Idioms

Get the hell out of dodge

Ever feel like you’re in an uncomfortable, unfortunate, or bad situation? Not sure if you’re reading someone’s vibes correctly? Are resentments, insecurities, preconceived notions, and other emotions clouding your judgment and preventing you from making the difficult decision to “get the hell out of dodge”?

Well, here’s your chance to learn cues that will help you realize it’s time to escape. The following idioms are helpful reminders to assess your circumstances and decide when to make a change.

WATCH: Can You Correct These Idioms?

Grasping at straws

Straws are flexible and weak, so don’t rely on them to help you out of a bad situation. If you’re grasping at straws, it’s time to move on.

Thomas More coined this phrase in his 1534 work Dialogue of Comfort Against Tribulation, and (in this book) it refers to a drowning man grabbing any floating object, even a straw, to save himself.

These days, it’s a phrase used more commonly when you see a friend coming up for reasons to stay in a bad relationship or lame excuses for staying at a deadbeat job. If you find yourself looking for the good in a sea of ugly, you’re grasping at straws.

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t—it’s a lose-lose situation. The expression was coined in 1836 by evangelist Lorenzo Dow in his sermons about ministers who say the Bible contradicts itself.

Recently, the Equal Pay for Equal Work act has left women feeling this way. Sometimes, calling out a discrepancy can have fierce repercussions. But, remember there’s power in numbers, so gather a group fighting for the same cause to turn that hopeless situation into powerful action. #metoo . . . for example.

Tip of the iceberg

Is your company offering employees early retirement? Awesome, right? Wrong! It may be just the tip of the iceberg—only a small part of a bigger problem hidden beneath the surface. The idiom comes from a description of a physical iceberg—only a small portion of the glacial mass floats above the surface, and it’s hard to judge the size and shape of the huge submerged mass.

So, if you’re considering staying at your company, while others took the retirement bait . . . it might be time to look for a new job before your company announces their hidden glacier of debt.

At your wits’ end

At your wits’ end? Well then, you’ve reached the limit of your emotional or mental resources. You may be feeling overwhelmed, worried, confused, or annoyed and not sure what to do next or how to solve a problem.

This is an age-old feeling, proven by the fact that this phrase comes from the Psalms the King James version of the Holy Bible. “They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wits’ end.” If you’re feeling this way, talk it out. Maybe someone else can see something you’re missing.


If you’re caught in a catch-22, it means you’re in a situation in which it’s impossible to succeed because of conflicting rules or conditions. Joseph Heller coined the term in his 1961 novel Catch-22. In the book, a man is considered insane if he willingly continues to fly dangerous combat missions. But, if he makes a formal request to be removed from duty, he demonstrates his own sanity and, therefore, is ineligible to be relieved.

Seemingly similar to a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation, you might find yourself in a catch-22 if you apply for a job and are told you need more experience . . . but, you can’t get more experience without getting hired to do the job. To get out of that vicious cycle, try finding a contact in the field that can help you get a foot in the door.

A vicious cycle

Speaking of . . . when you’re caught in a vicious cycle, one problem causes another problem, which then causes the first problem again.

Sometimes, this can be called a vicious circle, which originally referred to an argument that used the conclusion as one of its premises. When in this type of situation, try something new; there may be an easier out than you thought.

In dire straits

If you find yourself in dire straits, you may be experiencing some financial difficulties. Nothing wrong with calling on the support of your friends and family in times like these.In dire straits actually has nautical roots. Strait is a Middle English word used by sailors to describe “a difficult to maneuver channel of water,” such as the Straits of Gibraltar or the Bering Strait. Dire comes from the Latin dirus, meaning “fearful, awful, or boding ill.”

Last resort

A last resort is a final course of action . . . when all else has failed. If your flight is canceled and you can’t book another one, you decide, as a last resort, to rent a car and drive 15 hours to your destination. Because, holidays (and familial guilt). Acting on a last resort isn’t the worst position to be in, at least there’s one more way out, even if it’s tiresome. But, if your last resort falls through, it’s probably time to move on.

The idiom comes from the French term en dernier ressort, which meant “the last means of relief, the final legal appeal.”

Dodged a bullet

If you feel like you dodged a bullet by getting the hell out of Dodge, then you absolutely made the right decision to leave. This idiom means you barely escaped from a dangerous or disastrous situation, or a serious problem. Nice work reading that situation before it was too late!

According to Now You Know Big Book of Answers, the expression was created by soldiers during World War I as they watched slow-moving bullets coming right for ’em.

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