Looking for an idiom that describe such situation that one event entails another. I.e., describing mostly for troublesome/negative events that comes one-after-another. "long-tailed"?

For example,

  • to explain "Z", then I have to first to explain "Y", which depends on understanding of "X", which builds on top of "W", ...
  • or, it's like pulling up a huge carrot -- the more you pull, yet the more it seems are still missing.

I.e., once started, problems come one-after-another. Any idiom for this? Thanks

  • Honestly, your two examples don't seem to be the same thing.... particularly, your first example doesn't seem to imply your i.e. statement at the end.
    – Catija
    Commented Jun 13, 2015 at 4:46
  • Also, neither one seems to match your question's Title. Commented Jun 13, 2015 at 11:24
  • Guys, you've got to read between the lines what I was asking. If I can precisely describe it, I might not need to ask in the first place. I like Brian's approach when answering, make a guess, and give an answer. After all, there are people who have understood exactly what I was looking for. BTW, the other idiom in my mind when asking the question was "the tip of the iceberg", however, I didn't mention that because it stressed on the magnitude of the issue, not the situation that problems come one after another. If you think along this path, then my two examples make perfect sense.
    – xpt
    Commented Jun 13, 2015 at 14:03
  • my two examples make perfect sense, especially the first one. Comment was too long, have to split out the question here -- is there a phrase like "when problems come, they come in pairs"?
    – xpt
    Commented Jun 13, 2015 at 14:06

3 Answers 3


Here are a few commonplaces that might suit your needs:

Let's not get into that subject. It's a can of worms.

Don't pull that thread, or the whole thing will unravel.

Careful, it's a slippery slope.

  • I like the fabric analogy; but it's not that things will all unravel; it's more as if there's a knot, which the more you try to undo it, the more entangled it gets. anyway, +1 for Can of Worms. Commented Jun 13, 2015 at 11:28

I think you can use the following idiom:

When it rains, it pours (AE)/It never rains, but it pours (BE).

  • nice try, but missed the mark Commented Jun 13, 2015 at 11:31
  • Thanks Khan. You've really read between the lines what I was asking.
    – xpt
    Commented Jun 13, 2015 at 13:52

TRomano's ideas are good (especially "can of worms"; I hear that used frequently in IT systems contexts).

Here are a few others that might apply in some situations.

If the project gets more difficult the more you look at the interconnected parts, it's like...

if, once you start taking things undone, it gets increasingly hard to put them back in order, it's like...

(or if it will be impossible to even put them back together...)

If it's a complex structure held together by delicate links, which, if tinkered with, could break and cause cascading problems, it will be like...

Or if tinkering might upset the balance and lead to a sudden collapse...

On the other hand, if the pieces are so tightly intertwined that it's impossible to pry one part loose without breaking the whole thing, you have ...

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .