How could one describe a situation in which no trick, no approach, no magic, nothing at all works to change the outcome? One where you have no choice but to accept things as they are.

For example, I can't use the excuse that I was ill for missed homework because I've already used it. Or when this happens with your boss?

What can I call such situation, in a single word, wherein you just have to accept the blame, just have to give in to the situation you are in?

  • If you have no occasion for judgment or considered choice among options, the situation is not properly termed critical. In the archetypal dilemma, Odysseus had to accept that he would lose at least some of his men, but he still had a choice to make between Scylla and Charybdis, and used his (or perhaps rather Circe's) judgment to make that choice. In characterizing your hypothetical situation as critical, do you mean there is a real and important choice involved? Jul 14, 2014 at 17:17
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    @BrianDonovan A situation of this sort is critical for OP's 'you' because it is a crisis, a turning-point; its outcome indeed rests on a choice (which may or not be 'considered' or rational), but the choice is not 'yours' but that of the person -the teacher, the boss- whom 'you' must confront. Jul 14, 2014 at 17:37
  • Consider "at an impasse".
    – ErikE
    Jul 16, 2014 at 1:59
  • 2
    @jahanvi How is 25 answers not enough attention?
    – Kit Z. Fox
    Jul 29, 2014 at 22:19
  • "There's no magic bullet" is a common idiom that nearly perfectly matches your title, but it fails to meet your "one word" criterium.
    – Jaydles
    Jul 30, 2014 at 0:34

25 Answers 25


It's a...

no-win situation

...often summed up by saying you're...

damned if you do, and [you're] damned if you don't

Sometimes it's appropriate to call it a...

Catch-22 [situation]

...where it's inherent in the context that you're required to simultaneously observe two or more mutually contradictory constraints. Particularly when successive solutions you come up with are ruled out because of additional constraints you didn't even know about until they were cited as reasons to reject those solutions.

If you are in such a situation, but you've phlegmatically decided to accept it (and any associated blame) without indulging in further protestations against the "unreasonableness", you are...

resigned - because you accept something unpleasant that cannot be changed or avoided

  • 2
    There cannot be another word that expresses the meaning any more cogently. However, it is an adjective. Isn't there a noun?
    – vickyace
    Jul 14, 2014 at 17:40
  • @vickyace: Obviously you could accept a no-win situation with an air of resignation, for example, for a noun usage. Or adverbially say that you have resignedly accepted the situation. These and several other derived forms are all perfectly normal usages. Jul 14, 2014 at 18:02
  • ha. That's what I thought.
    – vickyace
    Jul 14, 2014 at 18:10
  • @medica: It's certainly a no-win situation for me! After I answered, OP edited the question to make it clear he's asking about how to describe being forced to admit you're at fault, purely because you've run out of excuses. Arguably I can still be resigned to the fact that my answer is no longer exactly right, but unlike OP I don't feel "blameworthy". So whereas he can come clean, 'fess up, and face the music with his teacher, I can only take it on the chin. Jul 15, 2014 at 14:13
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    @FumbleFingers your bolding of key phrases reminded me of the website as you no doubt deduced. And it sounds like your experience there is the same as mine has been in terms of time no longer having meaning. Jul 15, 2014 at 16:41

I think "lost cause" fits your description the best.

PS. I just reread the examples of your description and I think you should use "no way out" in those situations.


Possibly obscure, but Kobayashi Maru? Although some might argue, in a Kobayashi Maru situation, a trick is exactly what is called for.

  • 10
    Depending on the audience, this could be perfect.
    – apnorton
    Jul 14, 2014 at 23:41
  • If this answer hadn't been here already, I was going to post it!
    – TecBrat
    Jul 15, 2014 at 1:41
  • although I don't think that the kobayashi maru fits in this specific instance because of the fessing up portion, I would have given the same answer myself.
    – KnightHawk
    Jul 15, 2014 at 17:47

Personally, I'd call the case in question a blame game (“A situation in which people attempt to blame others rather than trying to resolve a problem” – wiktionary) or blame fest on the basis that it usually is someone else's fault when I'm blamed for a problem.

But more generally, when one cannot avoid something, one may refer to an inexorable fate (where inexorable means “Impossible to stop or prevent; inevitable” — wiktionary), or in that phrase replace inexorable with inevitable (“Impossible to avoid or prevent” — wiktionary), predestined (“foreordained by divine will” — wiktionary), or preordained (“determined in advance; predestined” — wiktionary).

One might also refer to an inevitability (“An inevitable condition or outcome” — wiktionary), a foregone conclusion (“A predictable or inevitable conclusion” — wiktionary), the millstones of the gods (1,2), a juggernaut (“A literal or metaphorical force or object regarded as unstoppable, that will crush all in its path” — wiktionary), a mea culpa, a peccavi, or something fated (“Foreordained, predetermined, established in advance by fate” — wiktionary).

  • Inevitable is my obvious choice of word too for this one. I'm a bit surprised it is so low on the list of answers.
    – Tonny
    Jul 15, 2014 at 8:02
  • @Tonny, I was surprised that inevitable, inexorable, and some others of these hadn't been mentioned, when I posted. That was about half a day after the question was asked, and most views had already happened. Jul 15, 2014 at 14:46

There are numerous phrases that convey the acceptance of blame, such as

[all from ODO]

If you are just talking about the situation rather than the guilty persons response, you could say


How about fate, destiny, pre-ordained, or another word along those lines? They all embody the concept of a future that is already written.


Such a situation is sometimes referred to as a cul-de-sac or a dead end.


Impossible to avoid or prevent

inevitable adjective
impossible to avoid or prevent

unavoidable adjective
impossible to stop from happening

inescapable adjective
impossible to avoid or ignore

unstoppable adjective
impossible to prevent or stop

uncontrollable adjective
if a situation or event is uncontrollable, you cannot stop it, change it, or improve it

irresistible adjective
impossible to refuse, not want, or not like

compulsive adjective
impossible to control and therefore sometimes harmful

inexorable adjective
impossible to stop

irrevocable adjective
impossible to change or stop

cannot/can’t help something
used for saying that someone cannot stop themselves doing something

Source: MacMillan Dictionary


sounds like you painted yourself into a corner



The words "hopeless", "fruitless", or "futile" come to mind for me. Given the definitions below, futile seems to best fit your needs.


  • hopeless: feeling or causing despair about something.
  • fruitless: failing to achieve the desired results; unproductive or useless.
  • futile: incapable of producing any useful result; pointless


  • Given my instructor's strict policy on late assignments, my chances at convincing him otherwise leaves me hopeless.
  • A two our argument with my instructor over my late assignment proved fruitless.
  • To argue with my stubborn instructor over a late assignment would simply be futile.


  • 1
    Welcome! I realize this is a fairly straightforward answer; still, linking to a definition, or putting one in as a reference, might help people see exactly why these words come to your mind as synonyms. Edit your answer here and you'll be ready for your first upvote! Jul 15, 2014 at 14:27

The best word I can think of is that it would be inevitable. It means certain to happen, or unavoidable, which fits the bill.


FUBAR is a neologism created from the informal military acronym for f@#$ed up beyond all repair, referring to a situation where there is no solution that will provide positive results.

There are bowlderized versions for sensitive ears, such as fouled up beyond all repair/recognition.

And there is the TARFU variant, meaning totally and royally f@#$ed up.

Related is SNAFU for situation normal, all f@#$ed up.

And in the same vein, if you are the unfortunate person in such a situation, the you are simply f@#$ed.

  • In FUBAR, the R stands for "Recognition" | I'm sure that there are other versions, but "Beyond All Recognition" is the classic version that I have always heard. "Repair" sort of implies that we are talking about a mechanical failure. "FUBAR" was used to describe orders by incompetent officers. In military parlance, "the situation is FUBAR" means something to the effect of "we're probably going to die because we're being led by a moron." Jul 31, 2014 at 16:50

What you would want is to mitigate the consequences of your behaviour, meaning make (something bad) less severe, serious, or painful (Oxford dictionary). But, to make it one word, the situation is unmitigable (found in a few dictionaries, usage examples).


Such circumstances are often referred to as a fait accompli, borrowing from the French.

A situation which cannot be changed and has been imposed by others.


'Hobson's Choice'--means one is given a choice but permitted only one choice. Named after Thomas Hobson (1544-1631) a livery stable owner in Cambridge England. To rotate his horses Hobson gave his customers the choice of taking the stall nearest the stable door or taking no stall at all. Hobson's choice is no choice.


I'm going to suggest inextricable as an adjective. It is used with situation or fate also which fits well to the idea. It is also used in technical contexts.

Unavoidable; inescapable: bound together by an inextricable fate.

Source: http://www.thefreedictionary.com

As a noun, I can suggest impasse. It is often used in bargaining and discussions but you can apply to other situations as well.

A situation that is so difficult that no progress can be made; a deadlock or a stalemate: reached an impasse in the negotiations.

Source: http://www.thefreedictionary.com

As an idiomatic phrase, there is behind the eight-ball. It is used in very difficult situations with no solution or escape.

(idiomatic) In a difficult situation or tight spot.

After his last two projects failed, he was really behind the eight-ball.
He was desperate, playing behind the eight-ball.

Source: http://en.wiktionary.org


It's not exactly about the situation itself, but about the action.

There's nothing left but to bite the bullet.

Biting the bullet is an idiom for accepting the simple, obvious negative consequences. It's the opposite to worming your way out. You got in trouble, you plead guilty and accept the punishment.


What about

at mercy

All of these answers are suggesting that the author is trying to describe a negative outcome. To me he seems to be trying to describe a situation where he is 'at the mercy of' an authority/situation/weather, having extinguished all of his possible action points.

"At mercy" is not inherently desperate, it just shows acceptance and submission to the end-result, not necessarily hopeless but without any option other than waiting for an outcome, external to yourself.


Responding to the updated question where you've clarified that you're hopelessly trapped and cannot escape, I suggest the most idiomatic description is:

They've got you cornered

Which is self-explanatory.

Please note the distinction from @Joseph Neathawk's

Painted yourself into a corner

In the former scenario, they cornerned you; in the latter you cornered yourself.

  • no exit
  • boxed in
  • hemmed in
  • at an impasse
  • in a blind alley
  • at a dead end
  • reached a stalemate (not quite the same)
  • deadlocked (not quite the same)
  • dead wrong
  • guilty

I have always considered such a situation where an act "must" be performed although an undesirable outcome is deemed inevitable a

Death March.

In business, there is a management antitype known as "Management by Death March" in which a project's prospects for satisfactory completion borders on nil but Management insists that rather than call the project a failure, cease from throwing good money after bad, and living to fight another day, they order a Death March. In a Death March, workers are pushed to commit excessive effort for little to no gain or have additional compensation incentivized by goals that management know are unreasonable or -in a more insidious case- have already been proven to have failed.

Another, more formal term for such a situation in which an act must be performed with a bad outcome already foreseen is a

Sisyphean Task

In the story of Sisyphus, Hades condemned him to a fate in which he must roll a rock up a steep hill only to have it roll back down on him near the top, in perpetuity.

If you are speaking more broadly of any situation in which an outcome is unstoppable, that outcome is known as



The situation of having no recourse.


Dire straights man.

Or an "impossible situation" - a situation where no resolution or victory is possible.

  • 1
    That's spelled dire straits, not straights. Also, Wiktionary says “A difficult position” rather than an impossible one. Jul 16, 2014 at 4:36

It’s not just one single word, but from the context it sounds like it’s “time to face the music.”


Resigned or taken-aback.

I am going to prefer either of both.

  • 3
    -1 resigned was in an answer posted weeks ago, and taken-aback (which doesn't have a hyphen) is completely inappropriate for the context. I don't understand how the bounty comes to be awarded to this answer, which has nothing to commend it. Aug 2, 2014 at 16:37
  • @FumbleFingers It's the way the site works. Anyone can accept whatever answer they please, anyone can give a bounty to whatever answer they please. You could just stick a 500 instant reward on this answer if you wanted. But you already know that so "What do points make?" ...
    – Frank
    Aug 2, 2014 at 18:32
  • 1
    @Frank: I don't know if whoever posted the bounty explicitly selected this answer, or if the system auto-allocated it. If the former, I suppose the guy must have had a reason - but to be honest I never understood why anyone would put a bounty on this question in the first place. If the latter, I'd like to know more about the auto-allocation algorithm. Aug 2, 2014 at 21:32
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    @FumbleFingers Maybe the whole point was for one guy to transfer 200 reps to his friend. That makes a lot more sense than attributing it to actual quality of answer, since this is in fact a duplicate answer and should probably be deleted because of that.
    – tchrist
    Aug 2, 2014 at 22:00
  • @FumbleFingers If you look at the edit history you'll see it was a manually applied bounty (but it was near the end of the bounty period). There was another bounty on this question earlier (50+ I think) but it passed the bounty expiry date automatically as the bounty 'offerer' was suspended at the time of expiration.
    – Frank
    Aug 3, 2014 at 5:32

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