10

It seems that only "no way out" or "there's no way out" is common used, but I want to emphasize the action of entrapping/entangling oneself in the path of no way out. "Down to the rabbit hole" is close, but at least you can go out in another hole if you really want. (Not sure if this is true in the story). Depending on the context, its meaning can be:

  • you will never get out
  • the only way to get out is to go backward destroy everything because it has been doing wrong at the first place

Is there an idiomatic way to say this, or am I going to the path of no way out here?


FYI: What are other ways to say "going on the path that leads nowhere"? This question emphasizes on the non-awareness of the situation.

  • 10
    As a side note, "down the rabbit hole" does not mean "no way out". It's a reference to Lewis Carroll's classic children's story "Alice in Wonderland" where Alice falls down a rabbit hole and ends up in a world that is stranger than she ever could have imagined. If you go down the rabbit hole you have no idea what you will find. – Andrew Jun 6 '18 at 15:35
  • Question: is the entrapping/entangling/etc to be literal or metaphorical? (Some idioms only really apply in one sense or the other.) – cHao Jun 6 '18 at 17:17
  • @cHao metaphorical – Ooker Jun 6 '18 at 17:39
  • Note that instead of "closed" you should have written "close". – Artelius Jun 7 '18 at 7:56
  • Can you elaborate a little more on the intention you're trying to convey? I have personally used similar phrasing when trying to tell someone that their best choice would be to commit fully to something without leaving themselves an easy way out, but in such a case the current accepted answer and some of the other answers are not applicable. – Cronax Jun 7 '18 at 10:10
13

To be "up a creek" or "up a creek without a paddle" or "up s*** creek" is to be stuck in an undesirable place with no way out. This isn't necessarily the subject's fault but is generally considered to be a no-win situation.

To "paint oneself into a corner" is to have, by one's own actions/decisions, trapped oneself with no way out without ruining what's been done so far. With this idiom, the fault is laid upon the painter. It may come off as more of an embarrassment than a no-win solution, since escape is easy but requires re-doing everything—and getting paint all over you.

Going "down the rabbit hole" suggests going or being in an increasingly complex situation, with the suggestion that the time or effort remaining is unknown and prone to expand.

The OP asks for "the only way to get out is to go backward destroy everything you've done and start fresh ... because you have chosen the wrong method at the first step" which fits the "paint yourself into a corner" phrase perfectly. However, it doesn't have the finality of the OP's "you will never get out" requirement, though it does imply "you will never get out unscathed/(covered in paint)."

Personally, when I see someone start off wrong and come to a dead end—for example, in a logical debate—I'll use the "you've painted yourself into a corner" phrase.

When someone is in a bad situation they can't get out of, I'll use the "up (the/s***) creek without a paddle." (Or, if I'm being snarky and think they'll get the alluded idiom, I might say "I bet you wish you'd brought a paddle, huh?")

  • This is pretty thorough. Thanks for articulating my problem with 'paint into a corner' given OP's requirements. – lly Jun 7 '18 at 0:52
39

You can paint yourself into a corner.

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    Start with a can of paint & a brush in the doorway. Paint the floor. Keep going until you realise you should have started in the far corner, not in the doorway. – Tetsujin Jun 6 '18 at 13:17
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    @Ooker This is precisely the English idiom for 'entrapping oneself with no way out' and should be marked as the answer, although it's not ever something that is commanded. It's a description of another's mistaken choices. – lly Jun 6 '18 at 17:29
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    @lly I'm not sure this is the answer. To me, the question seems to be talking about a situation where, once you've started, your only alternatives are to keep going or go back the way you came. Painting yourself into a corner isn't like that. Eventually you realise you're trapped but, early in the process, you had plenty of options until the point at which you couldn't jump over what you've already painted. – David Richerby Jun 6 '18 at 17:35
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    I think paint yourself into a corner fits pretty well this description that OP gives: "the only way to get out is to go backward destroy everything you've done and start fresh". Or wait till the paint dries. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jun 6 '18 at 18:19
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    It doesn't matter if you can "never" get out, or get out after the paint dries. The OP asked for an idiom, and this is exactly the idiom that fits. I've never been in a conversation where one person said, "Well, we've painted ourselves into a corner here, haven't we?" and someone answered, "That's okay, we can just wait until the paint dries." Let's not overthink the idiom. – J.R. Jun 7 '18 at 13:45
11

Once "the only way to get out is to go backward" is mentioned, I feel like suggesting the "dead end" and "blind alley" expressions that both may mean a metaphorical path that leads nowhere.

More precisely, a blind alley is

a way of acting or thinking that is not effective and will not achieve progress

And a dead end refers to the

situation in which you cannot make any more progress

Same source.

  • 1
    I think "path that leads nowhere" is more idiomatic? – Ooker Jun 6 '18 at 14:27
  • @Ooker - if you followed the links, you might have seen that both the expressions are marked as the idioms. – VictorB Jun 6 '18 at 14:32
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    Since the OP specifically mentioned wanting "to emphasize the action", it might be helpful to note that the idiomatic verb phrases for these two expressions are hit a dead end and go down a blind alley (often you do the first as a direct result of doing the second). – 1006a Jun 6 '18 at 16:06
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    And neither of those expressions are commands another person. @Ooker chose the wrong answer to his own question. (Also, fwiw, 'path that leads nowhere' is not an actual English idiom, although 'road' or 'bridge to nowhere' is.) – lly Jun 6 '18 at 17:27
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    @Ooker 'I'm/We're on the road to nowhere' is idiomatic and a great song, but they are expressions of complaint or existential crisis, not of feeling boxed in or entrapped at all. – lly Jun 6 '18 at 17:59
10

In a figurative sense you can say: to box (oneself) into a corner:

To create a predicament or unpleasant situation for oneself whereby there are no or very few favorable solutions or outcomes. I really boxed myself into a corner by leaving this essay till the last minute! The candidate boxed himself into a corner during the debate, having to take back several things he'd already said.

  • 1
    A similar (and slightly more common) expression is to back oneself into a corner. – Théophile Jun 6 '18 at 16:10
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    @Théophile That has a very different meaning. Boxing yourself into a corner is a process of trapping yourself through poor planning, but it's at worst stupid, not dangerous. Backing yourself into a corner carries the implication of personal danger, whether social or physical, where you've unintentionally cornered yourself for the benefit of your attackers, who you now cannot escape from. (Consider: a corner is not inherently a trap. The idiom relies on the unmentioned attackers to make the idiom have meaning.) – SevenSidedDie Jun 7 '18 at 17:38
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    @SevenSidedDie While I agree that an element of danger would require back and not box, I don't think that the converse holds. For example, Wiktionary says that it's a synonym of paint, M-W has "to put oneself in a bad position", which is pretty broad, etc. – Théophile Jun 7 '18 at 18:49
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    @Théophile It’s true, but that’s the difference between denotation and connotation. That’s why synonyms in a thesaurus aren’t 1:1 interchangeable. – SevenSidedDie Jun 7 '18 at 20:42
  • @SevenSidedDie Okay, I agree with you. It seems to me that there is an implication of personal danger in this context, though, which would make both expressions reasonable: the OP wrote, "I want to emphasize the action of entrapping/entangling oneself". – Théophile Jun 11 '18 at 11:39
5

Cross the Rubicon - take an action, the consequences of which prevent a return to the previous state of affairs. When Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon, he committed himself to warfare with the Senate/Republic of Rome. I.e. start fresh with an empire rather than a republic, as per your second bullet.

Burn your bridges - similarly, take an action that prevents a return to the previous state. Often (usually?) Used regarding relationships. Doesn't exactly fit your second bullet point, but close enough.

Burn your ships - take an action with the specific intent to prevent a return to the previous state of affairs, forcing yourself to succeed in your chosen path or fail completely. It adds a conditional to your bullet - if you fail, you will never get out.

Cross the event horizon - use only with an audience of science or science fiction enthusiasts. Like "cross the point of no return.". Google ngrams didn't find an example usage but I'm sure I've read or heard this usage in fiction.

5

For a more inspirational and slightly positive connotation, you may want to say "burn the ships behind you" or "burn the ships you sailed on".

This was popularized by the Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés who ordered his men to burn their own ships so they would have no way to go back to Spain after traveling overseas for months in order to discover the new world, or "New Spain" as they called it.

Ultimately, by trapping themselves on this new continent, knowing they had no way to go back, their will to survive and conquer drove them forward and overcome the obstacles in their way. This wasn't necessarily a happy ending though because lots of Native Americans in Mexico lost their lives, but it's a great lesson in leadership.

  • 2
    The usual expression is with bridges: to burn one's bridges behind one. – Lambie Jun 7 '18 at 18:47
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    @Lambie afail, burning bridges means something else (i.e. letting go of the past, destroying useful connections etc). – Tasos Papastylianou Jun 7 '18 at 19:56
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    @Yatit The Julius Caesar equivalent is "If you want to take the island, burn the boats". – Tasos Papastylianou Jun 7 '18 at 19:57
3

As mentioned by others, the act of giving oneself no exit is to box/back/paint oneself into a corner.

As a side note, the English idiomatic commands you could take as 'go a path of no way out' are 'to take a long walk off a short pier' and 'to go jump in a lake'. Really, though, they're just more colorful terms for the much older 'take a walk', 'take a hike', 'beat it', 'get lost', &c. meaning to get out of the speaker's area, with an implicit threat of violence otherwise. There's no idiomatic command to paint yourself into a corner, although you could coin something involving a door/lock/box and key, &c.

  • "Go jump in a lake" isn't an idiom I've ever heard and I'm pretty sure most people wouldn't see a meaning beyond the literal one. – David Richerby Jun 6 '18 at 17:54
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    @DavidRicherby Then you'd be misled by your personal experience. Apart from being in the OED at the first link, it's a thing. – lly Jun 6 '18 at 18:01
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    Allow me to rephrase. "Go jump in a lake" isn't an idiom I've ever heard in contexts that are remotely related to this question, and the definitions you link to have nothing to do with this question. – David Richerby Jun 6 '18 at 18:05
  • @DavidRicherby Don't know what to tell you. The original question was about one thing and further asked about expressing the action; these were the closest in expression although not intent, as the answer already states. Meanwhile Ooker completely changed the gist of what he was asking about, so none of the answers really work anymore. – lly Jun 6 '18 at 18:09
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    The question has always been asking for a phrase describing the act of getting oneself into a kind of situation. The edits haven't changed that. "Go jump in a lake" (and your whole second paragraph) is a way of telling somebody else to go away and quit bothering you. That isn't relevant to any version of the question. – David Richerby Jun 6 '18 at 18:18
0
  • to go down a one-way road or path
  • to go down a road of no return
  • to go down a road with no exit
  • to go down a path of no return

None of these are marked as either British or American. They are usable on both sides of the pond, and I would caution non-native speakers to be careful in their statements regarding them.

a path of no return

The Road of No Return is a crime thriller.

A point of no return has a different meaning than the idea of traveling or going down a path or road. The OP needs to decide: is this about an impossible situation or getting to a place you cannot get out of by going down a road or path. Let's not shoot the messenger....

In English, it is very, very common to talk of paths and road and couple those words in a variety of ways including the ones I have posted.

Finally, there is an idiom: point of no return, yes. But that is a point, not a path or road and the OP was asking about paths. It so happens many of these expressions are more usual with road, though path works in some of them.

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    I think "the point of no return" is more likely heard – Ooker Jun 6 '18 at 14:51
  • There was also a famous movie from the mid-20th century: The RIver of No Return. What's great about English is that you are not limited to clichés. You asked about paths, and roads are close to paths, the others have nothing to do with going down a path or road. Though going down a blind alley from Rompey at least suggests movement. – Lambie Jun 6 '18 at 14:54
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    @Lambie You're not limited to cliches but the first two of your suggestions are close enough to cliches that they sound like mistakes. At least in British English, it's always "one-way street", not road (and that doesn't have the right connotation, since a one-way street may well be the right way to get to your destination). Similarly, we normally talk about a path of no return. – David Richerby Jun 6 '18 at 17:37
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    @Ooker You mentioned path three times in your question. So, I attempted to stick to what I thought your idea was. Yes, we say point of no return. But we also say all the ideas I provided to you and it does sort of annoy me to see two downvotes and your comment as if my answers were completely off. You don't have to like them or use them but they are within the parameters you provided. You might want to remove the idea of going down a path from your question and limit it to being in an impossible situation. – Lambie Jun 7 '18 at 18:44
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    @Ooker The expression is: going down a path or going up a path leading or that leads nowhere. the path would limit it to a previously understood path. – Lambie Jun 8 '18 at 14:12

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