The thing in question can be a wounded animal or a dysfunctional relationship. In mild sense, it can be an object or idea that requires a lot of investment for it, and when it turns out that it not working you want to cut it down to avoid further loss.

Is there an idiom, proverb, or common saying that describes this situation?


Related: Is there an idiomatic way to say "go to the path of no way out"?

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    "cut it down to avoid further loss" is already close to a common expression, cut your losses. But that doesn't apply to animals; it's very much something you would say about a business. – MSalters Nov 7 at 23:40
  • For the situation in the title I would say "showing mercy". – Trilarion Nov 8 at 11:56
up vote 53 down vote accepted

You can put the animal out of its misery. It means to euthanize.

I suppose you could say the same of a failing business enterprise, figuratively, and even of a dysfunctional relationship, when speaking with a sort of grim humor, where you're casting the relationship as a badly injured or terminally ill and suffering creature.

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    Another term could be mercy kill; that one is more often used in reference to a human. – Werrf Nov 7 at 15:57
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    Euthanise and euthanize are both acceptable in British English, with ...ise being more common. But these words have a range of nuances: The Nazis used "Euthanasia" as a euphemism for mass murder of people with disabilities. – James K Nov 7 at 16:23
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    Yes, you could say It's time to put this relationship out of its misery. Again, only if you're willing to speak of it as if it were a hopelessly injured or terminally ill creature. I'm not advising you for or against, just responding to your question title. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Nov 7 at 16:33
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    Very similar version you might want to include: end its suffering. – Toby Speight Nov 7 at 17:41
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    They Shoot Horses, Don't They? – amI Nov 8 at 8:06

Put to sleep and put down are common euphemisms for euthanizing an animal - "put Fluffy to sleep", or "have Fluffy put to sleep", or "have Fluffy put down."

I've heard both used in other contexts such as bad relationships or failing businesses.

Tᴚoɯɐuo gave the best answer for killing an animal mercifully.

In the case of a business or investment, while we might use that as a metaphor, some common phrases are cutting your losses and don't throw good money after bad.

  • 1
    OP chose an answer that applies almost explicitly to a living animal/thing. IMO, "Cutting your losses" much better fits the OP's actual example: "it can be an object or idea...and when it turns out that it not working you want to cut it down to avoid further loss." If I had an idea to create XYZ product, but it turns out it wasn't possible, I wouldn't say that I need to put the idea out of its misery (unless I wanted to personify it I suppose)...I'd cut my losses and move on. – BruceWayne Nov 8 at 17:23

A coup de grâce is a death blow to end the suffering of a severely wounded person or animal.(Wiki)

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    would most people understand it? – Ooker Nov 8 at 11:47
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    @Ooker I think they would not. Original meaning is spot-on, but it has shifted into something more of "finishing blow", not necessarily merciful. Related term would be "misericorde/misericordia" but it's only useful when asking for death for oneself and even less recognizable. – Agent_L Nov 8 at 13:09
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    As someone who speaks french. No I would not understand – Cedric Martens Nov 9 at 0:37
  • @Cedric: how can you speak French and not understand such a basic expression? – Shautieh Nov 10 at 10:39

I'd use take it behind the barn and shoot it for putting an early end to something instead of having it drag on.

A similar saying is take it out back.

'It would be better off dead', 'I'd be better off dead!' is a common UK and US idiom, in speech and writing. It sounds very strong unless we are already talking empathically about death. FYI: a good example of 'terse' speech, short and useful but often better said with a few more words.

"pull the plug"

Literally, this means to pull the plug of life support equipment and let someone die. Or less morbidly, unplug a bathtub and let the water drain out, ending the bath.

Metaphorically, it means to put an end to something:

  • We've been more like roommate than lovers for the past 6 months. It's time to pull the plug on this relationship.
  • I hate to pull the plug on this party, but it's midnight. I've gotta get some sleep.

There's also "pull the trigger" which has multiple connotations depending on context, but the same basic meaning of ending a period of waiting:

  1. Pull the trigger to kill/stop something "She's suffered long enough. You've just gotta pull the trigger and get it over with."
  2. Pull the trigger to initiate/start something (like a starter pistol at a race) "We're ready--just waiting on the boss to pull the trigger so we can start."
  3. Commit to a decision/action "Dude! It's not that complicated! Just pull the trigger and pick one!"

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