What is the English saying/phrase to use when someone has long worked for something bad to happen to him?

For example he was so long involved in risky activities, or he was treating other people badly, so that it was to be expected, that sooner or later he will pay for it.

6 Answers 6


He had it coming is a very popular expression used to denote that the person is himself to blame for the bad things happening to him.

Another expression which is commonly used, particularly in press is disaster waiting to happen as in the following:

He was so much into alcohol that he was a disaster waiting to happen.

  • 1
    ...although it could also denote delaying the work of disaster prevention indefinitely; There was a disaster waiting to happen and you did nothing about it.
    – SF.
    Jan 25, 2013 at 7:39
  • 1
    Yeah...you made me remember another expression "she was a disaster waiting to happen"! which can be used in this context as well.
    – Mohit
    Jan 25, 2013 at 7:42

There are a lot of expressions to indicate that what has happened to someone should not cause any surprise due to their previous behaviour.

Before the bad event that has been worked for:

He's sailing close to the wind

He's skating on thin ice

He's his own worst enemy

He's cruising for a bruising

After the event has happened:

He's only reaping what he sowed

He should have seen it coming

  • +1 for "He's only reaping what he sowed" - this involves prior activity quite some time ago.
    – SF.
    Jan 25, 2013 at 9:18

To ask for trouble or "to look for trouble" is an idiomatic expression, meaning "to seem to be trying to get into trouble; to do or say something that will cause trouble."

It is often used in continuous tense (when you are doing it at the given moment):

Stop talking to me that way, John. You're just asking for trouble.

The guard asked me to leave unless I was looking for trouble.


Other idioms or sayings about reaping what you sow include:

• “You have to pay the piper”, which means one must face the results of one's actions. Examples of use from McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs include:

You can put off paying your debts only so long. Eventually you'll have to pay the piper. You can't get away with that forever. You'll have to pay the piper someday.

• “What goes around comes around” means “A person's actions, whether good or bad, will often have consequences for that person”

• “Every bill comes due” appears in various forms, for example Every bill eventually comes due , The laundry bill comes due, When the Bill Comes Due ..., etc.

Also, the word karma is relevant; one of its senses is “The idea that one reaps what one sows; destiny; fate”.


For "he was treating other people badly", you could say "he got his just rewards" or "he got his comeuppance" or even "payback is a bitch, isn't it?".


He sabotaged himself or he had it coming are two most popular expressions to denote that the person was involved in activities that led to the bad things happening to him.

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