When I said “Don’t pull my legs,” in English as a literal translation of Japanese idiom, “足を引っ張る-ashi o hipparu - pull one’s leg” meaning “trip a person up with a mistake” to my English enthusiast friend who pointed out my misspoken words in English Speaking Society, she retorted me that “Pull one’s leg” in English has totally different meaning from Japanese “pull one’s leg.” It means to play a joke on a person.”

I consulted a digital English Japanese dictionary on the spot. She was right.

“足を引っ張る- pull one’s leg” is very popular Japanese idiom that is used when somebody is nitpicking your error or misstatement. And I think it came from an analogy of pulling somebody down who’s trying to climb up the ladder of success by his / her legs.

Are there English idioms or figurative expressions equivalent to Japanese “Ashi o hipparu –pull somebody down by his / her legs from the ladder of success / achieving goal, by exposing or making most of his / her mistakes / fault / shortcomings?

  • Is the person who is the victim of having "their leg pulled" in Japanese, deserving of such an action? Can he or she be said to need this type of humiliation? Or is it more hypercritical towards the people who are doing the nitpicking/pointing out the person's mistake? Important distinction as I think I may have a suitable idiom in mind. – Mari-Lou A Oct 28 '14 at 4:29
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    @Mari-Lou. I think it's worthy of note that "Pull somebody down by legs" in Japanese has dual meanings of (1) light-hearted meaning of “nitpicking sb’s misstatement such as grammatical errors and malapropism and (2) serious obstruction such as putting down or bury your political or business rival by a plot. However, both usages come from the allegory of pulling somebody down by holding his legs from the top or middle of the ladder the victim was climbing up or almost reaching. – Yoichi Oishi Oct 28 '14 at 5:07
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    The phrase "dragging me down" is common as a complaint by a person who feels that another person is making his or her progress toward success more difficult over an extended period of time; but I think that "trip up by the heels" does a better job of suggesting an action that can be either playful (as when someone points out a logical inconsistency in a friendly conversation) or serious and in some sense desperate (as when a hockey or football player prevents a player from advancing on a breakaway to the goal by tackling him or her from behind). – Sven Yargs Oct 28 '14 at 6:03
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    @Mari-Lou. I didn’t know the wording, “career sabotaging.” It seems to mean derailing one’s career according to the www.bankrate.com’s “6 ways to sabotage your career.” that reads: “It can take only one really dumb decision to derail your career. Major career meltdown moments aren't the only ways to sink a career though. Careers are rarely sunk by a single incident and if they are then it is clearly something dramatic. -- Most damage is usually longer term." Yes. “Ashio hipparu – pull other’s legs” in Japanese implies ‘to try to spoil other’s achievement / career’ in (2) the serious version. – Yoichi Oishi Oct 28 '14 at 7:08
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    I think "to [try to] trip someone up" comes closest to the mark for purposes of translation. As in, "Stop trying to trip me up." – Robusto Oct 29 '14 at 11:03

I think cook someone's goose and spike someone's guns come closest in meaning.

cook someone's goose: if you cook someone's goose, you do something that spoils their plans and prevents them from succeeding.


Note: There is also "(someone's) goose is cooked" version. Apparently, it is more common.

spike someone's guns: To frustrate a person's efforts or designs; to undercut, to render helpless.


There are also other similar idioms that you can use depending on the context:

  • cut the ground from under someone's feet
  • pull the rug out (from under someone)
  • put a spoke in somebody's wheel
  • throw a monkey wrench in the works (AmE)
  • throw a spanner in the works (BrE)
  • rain on someone's parade
  • stand in someone's way

Note: You also mentioned the idiom trip someone up in your question which is partially what you are asking. But it doesn't necessarily indicate that you are hindering someone's success.

[with object] (trip someone up) Detect or expose someone in a mistake or inconsistency:

the man was determined to trip him up on his economics


Note 2: If you want to use a career related phrase, you can consider ruin someone's career.

Also, this Ngram result might give an idea how common these phrases are. (I didn't include "stand in someone's way" because it has other broader senses)

enter image description here

  • There must be some other idioms I forgot. – 0.. Oct 28 '14 at 2:47
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    Those may be the two idioms closest in meaning, but for what it's worth, personally I've never heard of them. – Lynn Oct 28 '14 at 4:05
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    @Lynn: They are not uncommon, actually. – 0.. Oct 28 '14 at 4:22
  • it's strange you've never heard of them. "your goose is cooked" is a common way to say you're done for, you're ruined. (it is less phrased the way shown in that wiki.) "spike someone's guns" is common too. – Fattie Oct 28 '14 at 9:01
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    I think I've heard ‘cook someone's goose’ (in the active), but I'm not actually certain. The passive is of course common enough, but its meaning is sufficiently different that I'd probably be quite unsure about what the active really meant in a given context. “Your goose is cooked” to me doesn't just mean ‘you've been hindered’—it's basically equivalent to ‘you're dead (meat)’. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Oct 29 '14 at 2:14

As a lighter hearted version of the Japanese ashi o hipparu, "used when somebody is nitpicking your error or misstatement" may I suggest the flowing idiom bring somebody down a peg or two

This is used in those instances when a braggart or someone too big for their boots needs a reminder that they are not as perfect or talented as they think. It shouldn't involve public humiliation (although I wouldn't exclude it categorically) but it should wound or prick the offender's pride.

The definition that The Phrase Finder gives is

To 'take (or pull, or bring) down a peg (or two)' is to lower someone's high opinion of themselves.

I think he needs taking down a peg or two.
good to see United taken down a peg or two last evening

Etymonline dates the phrase as far back as the 1580s

Another related idiom is to knock somebody off his/her pedestal

Cambridge Dictionaries Online
to show people that someone is not as perfect as they seem to be:


Here is a Google Ngram chart illustrating how frequent the following expressions are: cooked his goose, spiked his gun, took him down a peg, bring him down a peg, off his pedestal in the English corpus from 1900 to 2000. Click on the link to see a larger version and visit the results listed at the bottom of the page. Failing that, see the comments below.

Ngram Chart listing idioms: the "off his pedestal" leads by a mile

  • great suggestion mari-lou - high five! and another - "...off pedestal!" Super !!! – Fattie Oct 28 '14 at 16:36
  • Thanks for valuable input as usual. Both “bring sb. down a peg or two” and “knock sb. off his / her pedestal” sound germane to ones I'm looking for, but are quite new to me. So I tried to compare “popularity level” of these two phrases with six alternatives given by Ermanen on GoogleNgram. But I failed to get the usage trends and numbers of both phrases you suggested. Perhaps I put them in wrong way. – Yoichi Oishi Oct 28 '14 at 23:30
  • @YoichiOishi NGrams – Mari-Lou A Oct 28 '14 at 23:36
  • 42,200 hits for "knocked someone off his pedestal" on Google Books – Mari-Lou A Oct 28 '14 at 23:38
  • 13,900 hits for "cooked his goose". The "goose is cooked" could also be talking about the actual dish, roast goose. – Mari-Lou A Oct 28 '14 at 23:40

To "keep someone back" is to keep them from advancing in life.


Yoichi, your headline seems different from the question

(issue 1) it's true that "pull your leg" in English means "play a joke"

BUT NOTE, in fact it is less-used literally that way:

You most commonly hear "DON'T pull my leg!!" which is equivalent to saying "You must be joking" or "don't be silly".

Example: "In Japan we have a female pop band with 40 members" "Yoichi! Don't pull my leg, man!" "It's true! They are called AKB48!"

(issue 2) you give a number of different senses for the JAPANESE saying:

a) “trip a person up with a mistake”

b) "hindering a person in achieving work"

(a) is just an accident. I can't really think of an idiom for that. yo'd just say "whoops, sorry I was clumsy"

(b) is "sabotage". ie you deliberately spoil someone's efforts. the only idiom I can think of there is "spike their guns". that is rather "old-fashioned".

(there is an idiom "don't rain on my parade" which is similar but not exactly that.)

(There's an idiom "albatross..." or "an albatross around your neck" which is fulled explained here -- meaning a psychological burden.)

(A somewhat related idiom or concept is "tall poppy syndrome" - when a group tries to pull-down a high achiever. it's wiki day )

(FTR there are five vaguely related idioms here )

In the end the only really current phrase I can think of, that relates to this is "don't bring me down". (ie, the person being "leg-pulled" would exclaim that to the leg-puller.)

Here's the definitive reference on that from 1979:


So, you might hear "that guy at the office - he is always trying to bring me down."

At this point, I do not know exactly what your Japanese idiom "ashi o hipparu" actually implies. (Later - I notice the clarification in the comments, thanks.)

  • As you acknowledged, I think my answer to Mari-Lou's comment would clarify the last line in your question. Thanks for your elaborate answer as usual. – Yoichi Oishi Oct 28 '14 at 9:32
  • Incidentally, it is a long-standing unsolved mystery, what the hell Jeff Lynne means by "Broooce" in that song :) – Fattie Oct 28 '14 at 9:48

You can change the idiom "to throw a spanner in the works" and use "They threw a spanner in his works".


Consider, put a crimp in (someone's plans; etc.)

To interfere with; hinder.

Random House Kennerman Webster's College Dictionary


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