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In Italian there is a juicy idiom when somebody gives a risible explanation: knowing that children can delude themselves and try to deceive others when playing hide-and-seek,

enter image description here

they say: "... hide oneself behind one['s] finger".

Is there a set phrase (I mean one everybody recognizes as such) in English? Can you think of anything more appropriate than "making puerile excuse[s]---"?

That is the nearest I could find, but I fear is not a set phrase:

We cannot hide behind the puerile excuse of 'since we can't be perfect, we should not even begin'. That's little more than NRA-speak for don't .

The child in the picture is playing hide-and-seek, he is deluding himself he can't be caught; a finger is even smaller than a post.

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In most Indian languages there's an old saying, literally translated to "It is like a cat drinking milk with eyes closed". Here the cat thinks it is invisible to others. So "others can see through a misdeed despite pretensions." – NVZ Mar 4 at 6:29
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You need to explain to the community what the picture have to do with your example? Your question is not clear. Please add more context. The following is the strict rule of this community. Questions on choosing an ideal word or phrase must include information on how it will be used in order to be answered. – Rathony Mar 4 at 6:50
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@Rathony - the sense of the picture is to illustrate the child's idea that nobody can see him because he can see nobody. To "hide behind one's finger" is to try to find unconvincing but mainly too simple (puerile) excuses for having done something wrong, in other words to be unable to offer a good excuse. – Josh61 Mar 4 at 7:00
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@Rathony - the boy thinks he is hiding, (he may have done something wrong) probably from mom who is scolding him. I think the picture conveys the idea of the idiom requested. – Josh61 Mar 4 at 7:17
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Most dictionaries translate it as : to swear that black is white : oxforddictionaries.com/it/traduci/italiano-inglese/nascondere, dizionari.repubblica.it/Italiano-Inglese/N/nascondere.php. One simple alternative is "to pretend" . – Josh61 Mar 4 at 11:17
up vote 10 down vote accepted

"The dog ate my homework" is a popular idiom that would fit your context, though it's apparently more popular in British English.

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I don't think "the dog ate my homework" is any less popular in US English than it is in Britain. However, to fit the request in the question, you'd have to use it as an adjectival phrase: "He came up with a dog-ate-my-homework excuse." – Marthaª Mar 4 at 16:31

I'd suggest,

hide one's head in the sand Google Image

Also, bury one's head in the sand.

Refuse to face something by pretending not to see it. For example, For years we have been hiding our heads in the sand, refusing to admit that the store is losing money, or When it comes to a family quarrel, Dean just buries his head in the sand. This expression, transferred to human behavior in the early 1600s, alludes to the belief that ostriches burrow in sand thinking they will not be seen because they cannot see. In fact, however, when they do this, they are consuming sand and gravel to aid their digestive system. The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary

First, it is true - let us not bury our heads in the sand - that the defence of human rights in Morocco today still involves police action, court judgments and conditions of imprisonment which are often unacceptable. Collins French-English Dictionary

swear (that) black is white

To deny the obvious. ODO

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I considered it, but unfortunately this idiom is not appropriate as it refers to people refusing to cope with a coming danger and trying to fix the problem just ignoring it.Quite a different scenario – user11374 Mar 4 at 7:26
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@user104 You might reconsider it... forum.wordreference.com/threads/… – Elian Mar 4 at 7:39

In Britain, a lame excuse would usually be termed a cock and bull story but that doesn't really capture the childish implication of the Italian phrase.

A closer term would probably be fairy tale which implies that the excuse is fabricated, fanciful and somewhat infantile.

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+1, especially for "fairy tale." – Papa Poule Mar 4 at 14:47

Although I can’t think of a stand-alone, fixed idiom that contains it, “childish reasoning" could work (and perhaps be a bit more idiomatic than "puerile excuse/s") in your example:

We cannot/shouldn’t fall for the childish reasoning of/behind 'since we can't be perfect, we should not even begin,' which is little more than NRA-speak for ‘don't.’

(multiple usage examples of “childish reasoning” from ‘Judgement and Reasoning in the Child’ by Jean Piaget, via ‘Google Books’)

For a well-known idiom, albeit less literally capturing “puerile excuse” than “childish reasoning,” that could also work in your example, there’s “let’s not kid ourselves,” which also has its own Acronym (LNKO) (from ‘Urban Dictionary) or the singular variation “don’t kid yourself (from ‘Yahoo Answers’):

Let’s not kid ourselves/Don’t kid yourself [into thinking] that 'since/just because we can't be perfect, we should not even begin,' which is [just childish reasoning and] little more than NRA-speak for ‘don't.’

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Also, Let's not be idiots / Don't be such an idiot. – Mazura Mar 5 at 5:56

You might say, "Pull the other one!" It may be a derivative of pulling someone's leg, but it is idiomatic in its own right.

As @StuperUser notes, the fuller phrase is "Pull the other one, it's got bells on it." (This version also appears in the dictionary definition linked below.) It's also expressed as "pull the other one, it's got brass bells on". Peta31 at LibraryThing mentions an Australian version "pull the other leg it plays jingle bells!". I'm not sure whether these are embellishments to the shorter version or whether the shorter version is truncated from one of the others, but Ngram indicates that the bells versions (at least the first two) are much less common, with the brass bells version not even appearing (you may need to click on the "search lots of books" button to get that last message).

Pull the other one British informal Used to express a suspicion that one is being deceived or teased: Your boat was sunk by a swordfish? Pull the other one! - ODO

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It is a derivative of pulling someone's leg, the fuller phrase is "Pull the other one, it's got bells on it." "The implication is that one leg has been pulled, and the joker will have more fun with the other one due to the bells." – StuperUser Mar 4 at 10:27
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@StuperUser Thanks, that phrase also appears in the dictionary link (click on ODO in my post). The more fun reasoning makes sense, though there doesn't seem to be a generally accepted reference (mainly anecdotes) for the reason for the second clause. I've expanded my answer with more on this. – Lawrence Mar 5 at 3:57

"Fig leaf" is another phrase that is used for a flimsy and unsuccessful attempt to conceal something. In that sense, it parallels the Italian expression. You could insert "fig leaf" as a drop-in replacement for "puerile excuse" in the above sentence and it would be understandable. All the same, "straw man" makes more sense in that particular argument.

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You could say that the excuse is a logical fallacy, that of the Straw Man, since they are replacing a call for action with their straw man of a call for perfection. Perhaps that particular fallacy is just specific to your example. Most puerile arguments will be logical fallacies, I'd imagine, if for no other reason than if something is logical we are unlikely to say it is childish.

"To say we are calling for a perfect solution to the issue of gun control is a Straw Man, for we are calling for action, not perfection"

Or, since the argument is also a deflection, you could reference a reverse of the Wizard of Oz line:

"Pay attention to the man behind the curtain, rather than the wizard made of smoke and mirrors"

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