I have encountered a couple of problems regarding the proper translation from the Russian language into English. Here are 2 cases:

  1. There's an idiom that literally translates as "pull the ears" ("притянуть за уши"), which means that you are in a situation where you experience the lack of proofs and instead of accepting the fact that you're wrong, you are trying to find a very shaky, sometimes even illogical argument in order to factitiously prove your 'correctness'.

  2. Is there any proper analog for the opposite action of "to abbreviate" or "to make an abbreviation"? The rough one (that I made up for myself) would be "de-abbreviate". I'm not sure whether you may use it in the context like that:

    I have no idea how to decipher the 'IBM' abbreviation, something about machinery and computers

    Here you see the word "decipher", which is completely doable and useful in Russian, but when I said that, native English speakers were quite amazed about it.

  • 11
    The opposite of abbreviate is expand... already answered.
    – Void
    May 25, 2021 at 6:53
  • 17
    "Expand" is good, but idiomatic phrasing would just be "I have no idea what 'IBM' stands for." May 25, 2021 at 6:55
  • 1
    I am not a native speaker, but @the-baby-is-you 's "I have no idea what 'IBM' stands for." sounds the most natural.
    – Alex Alex
    May 25, 2021 at 13:51
  • 14
    It might be better to split this out into two distinct questions so you can mark two different answers as correct. May 25, 2021 at 16:21
  • 1
    Not enough rep to answer, but here is a similar question to q1. Also @Darth Pseudonym, from my brief research "pull the ears" seems to mean "try to force your correctness", as if you're pulling your argument through by the ears, and it seems serious, but I'd be interested to hear from someone who knows the usage better.
    – TylerW
    May 26, 2021 at 2:41

8 Answers 8


The idiom I would use is ‘grasping at straws’, for which Cambridge English Dictionary gives two definitions:

Grasp at straws:

  1. trying to find some way to succeed when nothing you choose is likely to work:

    • We searched all the backup tapes, trying to find the missing files, but we knew we were grasping at straws.
  2. trying to find a reason to feel hopeful in a bad situation:

    • I knew my mother was dying, but I was grasping at straws and denying reality.
  • 8
    Clutching at straws is another version. May 25, 2021 at 7:15
  • 3
    As an American, I don't hear clutching at straws frequently. I suspect that it is more common in British usage. May 25, 2021 at 15:33
  • 1
    Other versions include: grab at straws and catch at straws.
    – Void
    May 25, 2021 at 15:39
  • 2
    Considering the botanical use of 'Ears' in the context of Ears of Wheat etc., this may be almost a direct translation. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ear_(botany)
    – JeffUK
    May 26, 2021 at 5:42
  • 3
    "grasping at straws" is "хвататься за соломинку", and it is quite different from "притягивать за уши". The phrase "grasping at straws" is about persevering in a seemingly hopeless situation (there is even something noble in it), whereas "притягивать за уши" is somewhere between "talking nonsense" and "falsifying evidence" / "lying through your teeth" (usually without any noble reasons for doing so). Anyway, the question is off-topic here, and it also asks too many things at once. May 26, 2021 at 15:44

As you say, притянутый за уши аргумент is an argument that is weak or fallacious. In English you might call it a specious argument, or one that doesn't hold water (i.e. full of holes).

  • 10
    It never occurred to me that “doesn’t hold water” refers to it being “full of holes.” Hah! I like that, this has improved my appreciation for the English language.
    – KRyan
    May 26, 2021 at 3:19
  • 2
    Based on OP's definition, the idiom describes the situation of being wrong, but rather than accepting you are wrong, trying to find specious arguments to support your mistake. This could be an answer for what to call such an argument, but I don't think it is equivalent to the idiom. May 26, 2021 at 7:51
  • 3
    @Llama I am a native speaker of Russian and understand the meaning of the idiom pretty well, and my answer reflects that understanding.
    – mustaccio
    May 26, 2021 at 11:46
  • 1
    @mustaccio OK, I see. I'd suggest that you propose an edit to the question so that the meaning of the idiom is clearer to everyone, as OP's explanation seems different to your understanding. May 27, 2021 at 1:15

As suggested by @darth-pseudonym, you should split your question into two different ones: one for the idiom and another one for the IBM "deciphering".

I'm going to answer the second.

According to the Oxford Dictionary

Convert (a text written in code, or a coded signal) into normal language.

Notice that IBM is not a ciphered, coded or encrypted text. There's no need of a Enygma machine or similar for breaking the code. As pointed by @PhilPerry, it's just an initialism

An abbreviation consisting of initial letters pronounced separately (e.g. BBC).

I think that the most natural and simple way of conveying your desired meaning is using the phrasal verb to stand for

stand for something
Be an abbreviation of or symbol for something.
BBC stands for British Broadcasting Corporation

Check the provided example by the Oxford Dictionary. It's not

BBC expands in British Broadcasting Corporation.

If you search in Google using the following: "ibm initials meaning", the first produced result is precisely

International Business Machines
IBM stands for International Business Machines, a multinational computer and information technology company.

So, I would translate your sentence as

I have no idea what 'IBM' stands for, something about machinery and computers

You don't need to know how to decipher an initialism, because they are not really ciphered, you need to know its meaning, what it stands for.

  • 2
    Actually, "IBM" would be an initialism, not an acronym. It is pronounced as the three letters, and not as a word. "Radar" (RAdio Detection And Ranging) is an example of an acronym, an initialism that could be pronounced as a word.
    – Phil Perry
    May 26, 2021 at 14:42
  • @PhilPerry You're right. I didn't know the term "initialism". I'm going to edit my answer. Thanks.
    – RubioRic
    May 26, 2021 at 14:46

A possible English idiom is to chop logic, which means "to argue, especially in a hairsplitting way" as a verb. You might use it like

Howard, aware that he was losing the argument, was reduced to chopping logic to salvage some of his pride.


you are in a situation where you experience the lack of proofs and instead of accepting the fact that you're wrong, you are trying to find a very shaky, sometimes even illogical argument in order to factitiously prove your 'correctness'.

This can be described as hand-waving — the metaphor is of someone who does a lot of gesturing and emoting in an argument as a distraction from the lack of substance or logic.


In relation to the first facet of your case: Where, in a criminal case, the prosecution does not have reliable and convincing evidence against someone innocent but still advances the case against him, built up on flimsy and tenuous evidence, then the person can be said to have been stitched up.

  1. On shaky ground

    I might be on shaky ground here, but I am sure that <enter your favourite conspiracy theory> is true because <enter your favourite outrageous unsubstantiated claims here> are known facts.

  2. Expand

    Expanding the abbreviation IBM reveals that it stands for "International Business Machines"


    Expanding the acronym ASCII reveals that it stands for "American Standard Code for Information Interchange"

    However, it is much more natural to just say stands for:

    IBM stands for "International Business Machines"

    ASCII stands for "American Standard Code for Information Interchange"

    N.B. I've just realised that RubioRic's answer already covers expand and stands for

  • "Expand" is by no means always unnatural. It is the right word in "go through this document and expand all the abbreviations". But certainly "stands for" is more natural in "I don't know what it stands for" or "it stands for British Broadcasting Corporation".
    – rjpond
    May 28, 2021 at 7:14

If the russian idiom has the same meaning as Czech "přitažené za uši", I think tall tale has the same meaning:

According to Merriam-Webster:

Definition of tall tale/story

: a story that is very difficult to believe : a greatly exaggerated story

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