So I know I've heard this saying in American English before but I just can't quite find the original.

I have come up with several made up variations like:

  • I don't send the Navy (or whole army, or a battalion) when all you need is a diplomat.
  • Don't buy the whole cow when all you need is milk.

What's the more commonly heard saying/phrase for this of expression?

  • 1
    It's not really a saying, but the word 'overengineering' immediately comes to mind.
    – user77216
    Commented Aug 20, 2014 at 6:40

6 Answers 6


'Don't use a sledgehammer to crack a nut.'

To use 'a sledgehammer to crack a nut' means to use disproportionate force or expense to overcome a minor problem. (The Phrase Finder)

  • I knew I wasn't that crazy... Commented Aug 19, 2014 at 22:32
  • I wonder @Edwin Ashworth if you could tell me whether it is not too British.
    – A-friend
    Commented Jun 18, 2019 at 12:14
  • If you read the PhraseFinder article, you will see that the saying originated in the States, and that all the examples they give are from the USA. You can check for more recent usage in a domain-specified (USA? UK?) Google Ngram search. Commented Jun 18, 2019 at 18:55

I like

Don't use a cannon to kill a fly.

  • “Don’t overthink it.”
  • “Don’t make a mountain out of a molehill.”
  • Possibly “Don’t use grenades to kill mosquitoes.”

I’m pretty sure there are many, many more.


There is an acronym KISS, which stands for keep it simple, stupid often applied to this type of situation. [Wiktionary]


One example: Don't reinvent the wheel

  • 1
    hmm close. But not quite what I think I heard before. I thought about that one, and felt the expression I'm looking for is more about being "excessive" or "wasteful" rather than unorthodox in solving a problem... Commented Aug 19, 2014 at 22:30
  • -1. You'd say reinventing the wheel when someone is coming up with a new method for doing something where there's an existing (and usually better) way already. That's not what OP is describing.
    – Daenyth
    Commented Aug 20, 2014 at 18:33

In software engineering this is called "shaving the yak". This specifically addresses the idea that the proposed solution is overly complex / will take too long, and a simpler solution would be preferable.

  • IME yak shaving refers more to complicated steps that are mandatory but excessive and pointless. I feel like that blog post broadens the definition to the point where it changes the meaning. Urbandict supports me on that. urbandictionary.com/…
    – Daenyth
    Commented Aug 20, 2014 at 18:36

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