There is an expression in Spanish Puño de hierro, mandíbula de cristal whose English translation is iron fist, crystal jaw. But that doesn't make sense to an English person (I suppose) because I used that in a conversation with a native English speaker and she did not understand. English is not my first language so I don't know the correct equivalent.

That expression refers to a person who can insult others (thus "iron fist" which means that he can hit someone easily) but the same person in question can't bear it when someone else insults him (thus "crystal jaw" which can mean that when someone hits them, their jaw easily breaks).

Does such an expression exist in English?

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    "those who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones" is an English equivalent, though this is more often used when someone is being a hypocrite. a better one would be would be "if you can't take the heat stay out of the kitchen". Note that these are both rebuttals and are not as effective as a description Commented May 19, 2021 at 13:47
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    FWIW, I think the direct translation gets the point across reasonably well, especially if it has context (although the term glass jaw would sound more natural than crystal jaw). Commented May 19, 2021 at 14:11
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    I agree with @NuclearHoagie that the direct translation could work if you used glass jaw Sports Vulnerability of a boxer to a knockout punch. or Vulnerability... to destructive criticism. The opposite of having a glass jaw is being able to "take a punch", so the "iron fist" makes sense. "Heavy hitter" is a way to express someone hits hard, but it's used figuratively to describe someone who is influential, not aggressive. See dailywritingtips.com/55-boxing-idioms for an interesting list of boxing idioms.
    – ColleenV
    Commented May 19, 2021 at 15:14
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    “glass jaw” is an idiom in a boxing context, so if a person knows that, “iron fist but glass jaw” makes perfect sense.
    – StephenS
    Commented May 20, 2021 at 4:07
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    "doesn't like the taste of their own medicine", maybe? Commented May 20, 2021 at 17:11

7 Answers 7


Its English equivalent is ‘he can dish it out, but he can't take it’ defined by Cambridge English Dictionary as:

someone easily criticizes other people but does not like it when other people criticize him or her

  • Yes, this is the meaning.
    – Lambie
    Commented May 19, 2021 at 13:53
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    Short version: "X can't take what X dishes out".
    – Kaz
    Commented May 19, 2021 at 22:21
  • I think the first part muddies it. It's not "the closest one", it's pretty much an exact match. I suppose that sort of person is so common every language has an idiom for it. Commented May 20, 2021 at 2:45
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    @Kaz Just as an alternate data point, in my experience as a native English speaker in Canada, I've never heard your version of the phrase, but always the version in this answer. Commented May 22, 2021 at 5:26

In the gaming community, there's the phrase glass cannon.

What does “glass cannon” mean?

“Glass cannon” is used to refer to characters or objects that are extremely powerful offensively yet are also extremely weak defensively. Obviously, the most common usage would be within action games where you care about the offensive and defensive powers of a character. A similar, almost synonymous term is “glass dragon.”

This isn't a very old term, so it may not be recognized my some or most English speakers at this time. It somewhat echoes the more common phrase "glass jaw" (noted in the comments), although that only refers to the defensively-frail aspect.

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    I think the only use is in games. It's not a criticism like "iron fist crystal jaw is". "Cannon" is positive, it's very good at eliminating the enemy, which of course is paid by having low defense. Glass cannon units are a useful part of any game. But saying "my boss is a glass cannon" -- she's good at what and weak against what? Commented May 20, 2021 at 15:19
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    @Graham it fits the meaning from the question better than the much more well-known "glass jaw". Glass jaw just means vulnerable to injury. The expression in the question has an entirely additional element, which this idiom covers perfectly.
    – Alex M
    Commented May 21, 2021 at 5:18
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    This is strictly a gamer term and is not used in English generally.
    – J...
    Commented May 21, 2021 at 11:07
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    @AlexM I disagree. It only covers it on a superficial level. The underlying meaning and usage is completely different. It might work, when applied to a fighter or maybe some other sport/competition, but definitely not in the context of OP (criticism revealing hypocrisy). Glass Jaw is not better in this context though.
    – Dan M.
    Commented May 21, 2021 at 16:06
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    -1 As a native English speaker and gamer, if you said this in conversation my immediate assumption would be that you were talking about their literal fighting skills. No one says this about giving/dealing criticism Commented May 22, 2021 at 2:20

In boxing "Glass jaw" is a term that is sometimes used to describe some boxers who may be exceptional fighters, but seem to be knocked down or knocked out more easily than others. The sentiment is that while they may have a respectable record, this likely keeps them from being truly competitive amongst the very top boxers in the world.

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    Glass jaw only covers half the phrase. It has no inherent implications as to the "iron fist" part of OP's expression
    – Kevin
    Commented May 20, 2021 at 12:36
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    @Kevin True, but the term "glass jaw" is only usually used in the context of describing someone's characteristics as a fighter. I'd say it is implied that they otherwise have some degree of offensive capability because if they can't land a hit nor can they take one, they would just be called a pushover or a weakling. "Glass jaw" gives you the impression that they can land a hit but don't do so well taking one.
    – J...
    Commented May 20, 2021 at 20:32
  • @J... No. If I said, "that fighter has a glass jaw" it in no way is a comment that they are a strong or weak striker. It's just describing that they can't take a punch. As Kevin said, this answer is missing the other half of the idiom.
    – JeffC
    Commented May 22, 2021 at 3:49
  • @JeffC English is not like law or logic. Things can be implied by context. The etymology of the phrase has its roots in boxing and it meant that an otherwise imposing fighter had a critical vulnerability or "achilles heel". There is definitely an element of implied competence against which that vulnerability is contrasted. It was often used when talking about champion fighters. You might say that Han Solo had a glass jaw, but you would not say the same of a seven year-old kid running a lemonade stand, for example.
    – J...
    Commented May 22, 2021 at 6:50
  • @J... I am a 50+ year old native English speaker. I'm pretty sure I understand how English works. You could say Han Solo had a glass jaw because you'd seen him fight and not be able to take a punch. You wouldn't say the same of the seven year-old kid running the lemonade stand because you'd likely never seen him in a fist fight. Again... neither of which implies their competence on offense.
    – JeffC
    Commented May 22, 2021 at 14:56

I would use sharp tongue, thin skin which was a common expression where I grew up in Idaho.


"throwing stones in a glass house" is an expression that is used flexibly, i.e. "Those who live in glass houses should not throw stones" Instead of a fist, it's a stone, and instead of a jaw, it's a house.

Oxfordreference.com: Do not criticize or slander another if you are vulnerable to retaliation.

Quote: The proverb appeared in Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde, written in 1385. Later, George Herbert modified it this way: “Whose house is of glass, must not throw stones at another.” And in 1736, Benjamin Franklin wrote, “Don’t throw stones at your neighbors, if your own windows are glass.”

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    This expression means something different than the original question
    – Kevin
    Commented May 20, 2021 at 12:33
  • @kevin thats too general, whats the difference? I dont understand, details please. It means someone who criticises others, and cant take criticism. Same thing. Commented May 21, 2021 at 19:03
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    No, it doesn't mean that. Throwing stones in a glass house has to do with hypocrisy. You say "those in glass houses shouldn't thrown stones" to someone who is criticizing others for something they do. dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/…
    – Kevin
    Commented May 21, 2021 at 19:40
  • Something they DO? Since when are glass houses equivical to actions and Doings? Not at all... Figure of speech Nazis are unimaginative sheeple who never do anything imaginative because they can't use language flexibly and intuitively... nothing in the expression instructs people like you to be narrow minded. The glass house has no prerogative to symbolize a specific action, unless you are narrow minded. It can just as well symbolize an attitude, a behaviour, or an action. Commented May 22, 2021 at 20:43
  • Exclusive interpretation doesnt agree with this definition: proverb People who are vulnerable to criticism should not criticize others, especially not for the faults that they themselves have (since such criticism will likely be returned). If someone is especially boring when they write about etymology, they can also be boring writing about a wide variety of other subjects, but especially about etymology. Commented May 22, 2021 at 20:50

That I looks like a literal translation, a better translation for English is “iron fist, glass jaw”.

To quote an example “The trouble with boxing is far too many people take it far too seriously. They believe the measure of a man is his iron fist or glass jaw”.

Both are boxing expressions, and combining the two would be easily understood by anyone that is more than casual acquaintance with boxing, and by many with just a casual acquaintance (the iron in Iron Mike Tyson referred to his punching ability).


There's mimophant:

In Rejkjavik to cover the match, the novelist Arthur Koestler famously coined the neologism "mimophant" to describe Fischer. "A mimophant is a hybrid species: a cross between a mimosa and an elephant. A member of this species is sensitive like a mimosa where his own feelings are concerned and thick-skinned like an elephant trampling over the feelings of others."

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    "Mimophant" is not in the English dictionary - and I suspect the story of its origin is obscure to say the least. Using it to translate «Puño de hierro, mandíbula de cristal» will not be understood by most of the population.
    – traktor
    Commented May 20, 2021 at 4:41
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    It is indeed interesting
    – Zac
    Commented May 20, 2021 at 11:12
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    @Zac I have no problem with this answer being interesting. I down voted it because it is not useful for the OP to start using the word "mimophant" in speech. If I used it in a sentence, I would expect native English listeners such as myself to have no idea what I was trying to say.
    – traktor
    Commented May 21, 2021 at 2:10
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    Even with the definition there, most English speakers aren't going to understand it. After all... What do elephants drinking champagne and orange juice have to do with anything?
    – T.J.L.
    Commented May 21, 2021 at 20:35

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