I'm looking for an English idiom which is equivalent to:

Kalah jadi abu, menang jadi arang ("The loser be ashes; the winner be charcoal")

Actually, this is roughly translated. It's hard to translate Malay idioms into English because most of them don't even have overt subjects.

This idiom is about a stack of wood in a fire. The fire is symbolic of a fight and the wood could figuratively be understood as a group of people or a community who are fighting tooth and nails with each other. And when the fight comes to the end—or more metaphorically, when the fire ceases to burn—neither the loser nor the winner benefits from the fight. So they are both useless ashes and charcoal.

This idiom is used to refer to a group of people fighting without thinking of the consequences of their action, because after the fight, they won't get anything useful; rather, they'll end up being dead on their feet.


The context is quite simple: a group of people were fighting and they end up getting nothing but weariness.

Is there any English equivalent to this idiom?

  • Would "In war, whichever side may call itself the victor, there are no winners, but all are losers." (= there are no winners in war) work? It's commonly extended to any situation where both sides will suffer losses: there are no winners in X. What's the context you want to use it in, anyway?
    – user3395
    Jul 13, 2017 at 15:51
  • @userr2684291 Yes, that sounds good! But is that really an idiom? I can't find it in dictionaries. The context is quite simple. See the edit. Jul 13, 2017 at 16:01
  • Not sure why you're getting hung up on whether you're given an idiom or not. That sentence is a well-known quote, for your records. (:
    – user3395
    Jul 13, 2017 at 16:17
  • @userr2684291 Actually I was asked by someone. She's looking for an idiom. But I accept a well-known quote, anyway. (: Jul 13, 2017 at 16:19
  • I like "Some days you're the bug. Some days you're the windshield."
    – user11628
    Jul 13, 2017 at 16:26

1 Answer 1


A fight in which at best results in a Pyrrhic victory for the winner is described as a no-win situation or a lose-lose situation.

  • Sounds good! But is that really an idiom? Jul 13, 2017 at 16:02
  • @user178049 It is, but it describes a victory in which the winner loses (almost) everything, making it equivalent to defeat in a way. So it would be used to describe a victory, not the conflict or the situation. It also doesn't focus on the loser, or compare the loser to the winner. No-win situation also doesn't work because it occurs before the act, as per the linked Wikipedia article – it's a situation in which whatever you do you'll lose.
    – user3395
    Jul 13, 2017 at 16:12
  • @user178049 while "pyrrhic victory" is the formal term describing the situation, I'd say "a lose-lose situation" is the idiom (as a twist on "a win-win situation").
    – Doktor J
    Aug 22, 2018 at 15:14

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