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Kalila and Demna is a collection of fables, and it has a significant influence on Eastern culture, just as Aesop's fables probably does on Western culture. In Kalila, there's a story about a difficult, unmanageable donkey that's ready to kick and hurt anyone. Occasionally, the donkey would throw off the person and the load on it. People, angry at the scary donkey, would hit the saddle in revenge because they can't really hit the donkey. From this arose an expression that translates as

To spare the donkey, but to be a lion to the saddle.

In other words, to be brave when attacking the weak irrelevant saddle, but to avoid addressing the real intimidating source of trouble. I would use this expression, for example, whenever Mom and Dad have a fight, and then Dad, instead of lashing out at powerful Mom, lashes out at me.

A close English expression that I'm aware of is bark up the wrong tree but the problem with it is that it doesn't suggest cowardice in the person barking up the wrong tree as does the Arabic expression.

  • Bark up the wrong tree is too general, I think. It means to be pursue a false path of some kind, like a false path of inquiry or investigation, to have the wrong thing in one's sights. It has nothing to do with shying away from something because it is in some way intimidating. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Oct 10 '18 at 21:21
  • I thought when you say to someone, " you're barking up the wrong tree, buddy", you're actually saying " I'm not the one to blame, you should be saying this to someone else". – Sara Oct 10 '18 at 21:39
  • You can use it whenever a person is misguided and following the wrong course of action. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Oct 10 '18 at 21:43
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Sometimes people fail to confront or even to see the elephant in the room.

Usually this refers to something painfully obvious but overlooked while people are concerning themselves with all sorts of lesser issues, everything but this obvious thing. It is usually something troubling or a significant problem, a lot to deal with, so that people have no wish to take it on or even acknowledge its presence.

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  • Thank you very much@Tᴚoɯɐuo. Does this expression allude to cowardice as well? – Sara Oct 10 '18 at 21:42
  • It depends on what you have in mind by "cowardice". There is a vast spectrum of behaviors to which the term "cowardice" could be applied. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Oct 10 '18 at 21:46
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I'm not sure this is quite what you're looking for, but there is the phrase to take it out on [someone], which means to vent your anger at someone who is easy to target, but not really the appropriate target.

This could be because of cowardice: maybe you're upset that your boss gave you extra work, and you end up taking it out on your husband by complaining about his cooking because he can't fire you like your boss can. But it could just as well be because you're ashamed of your own mistake or just because the "appropriate" target is something like the weather that can't comprehend your anger.

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