I am trying to translate this comically vulgar Hungarian phrase, often (but not exclusively) used in a political context. It means to make someone else carry out one's rash or risky ideas, usually for the person's own benefit. So, for instance, when the issue emerges of how US economic sanctions on Russia hurt the local economy or jeopardize local gas supplies, Hungarians may say something like "Uncle Sam has chosen to beat the nettle with someone else's penis/dick". It is also used as an interjection: "Don't beat it with mine...!", or euphemised. Can you think of any matching idiom or vague equivalent? Thanks in advance.
I'm not exactly sure of the context of the idiom you quote, but I take it to mean that you use someone else to do the morally questionable or particularly difficult deeds that you need done.
Dirty work is often used to express that some particular activity is morally questionable. To mimic your example, Uncle Sam has gotten someone else to do his dirty work. Sometimes, dirty work can be used to mean the very difficult work that is messy (sometimes literally, but figuratively could mean disorderly), but is necessary to accomplish some goal.
Bitch work or grunt work is a similar expression. It is often used to indicate the lowly work that servants would do. Things like cleaning the toilet, scrubbing the floor, etc. It does not particularly relate to your example, but I thought it was worth mentioning.
The answer suggesting "Cat's paw" reminds me of the word tool. The word tool is often used in slang terms to describe a person that is being used and doesn't even know it. See this related post. In your example, the "someone else" might be described as a tool. Often, you will see this word used to describe a single person, not typically a nation, society, or other group.
There is an idiomatic phrase that conveys this idea and has the metaphoric similarity:
to make a cat's paw of someone
or use someone as a cat's paw
It is more commonly used as just cat's paw in the relevant context. (especially political contexts)
And here is a related phrase but from the viewpoint of the cat's paw:
- pull someone's chestnuts out of the fire
The Monkey and the Cat by Abraham Hondius
Cat's paw and related phrases are derived from the fable The Monkey and the Cat adapted by La Fontaine.
There are popular idioms derived from it in both English and French with the general meaning of being the dupe of another (e.g., a cat's-paw). Usage of these and reference to the fable have been particularly employed in (although not limited to) political contexts.
Cat's paw is a person used by another as a dupe or tool and if you make a cat's paw of someone or if you use someone as a cat's paw, you use this person for your selfish purposes (which implies dirty and risky jobs depending on the context). If you pull someone's chestnuts out of fire, you do the dirty work for someone else.
You always try to make a cat's paw of me, but I refuse to do any more of your work.
This term alludes to a very old tale about a monkey that persuades a cat to pull chestnuts out of the fire so as to avoid burning its own paws. The story dates from the 16th century and versions of it (some with a dog) exist in many languages. [TFD]
pull someone's chestnuts out of the fire
to do a dangerous, hard, or unpleasant thing for someone else [Collins]
Succeed in a hazardous undertaking for someone else’s benefit. [OD]
Note: The main reason I gave this answer was to match the metaphoric imagery and usage in political context. Of course there are more common idioms that convey the same idea in general but Hungarian language can have too. The question is not simply asking any idiom that conveys "using someone" and this amazing Hungarian metaphor makes it unique.
Example usages from news articles and reviews:
After moving on from serving as Uncle Sam’s cat’s paw, he found himself in Abu Dhabi in 2011, where he began working with the United Arab Emirates to build, in the words of The New York Times, an 800-man “secret American-led mercenary army,”...
And as if we do not have our hands full in the Middle East, the US military looks west to the South China Sea for relevance, i.e., future conflicts. If that fails, our aging cold war apparatchiks, using NATO cat's paw, are renewing a cold war with Russia.
Historically, Korea has always been a cat’s-paw in the world’s power games among China, Japan, and a Johnny-come-lately Uncle Sam in Asia Pacific region. And Koreans used to call the Korean Peninsula, ‘a shrimp whose back gets broken in the fight between Whales.’
An example usage from the book "The Pacific War Papers" By Donald M. Goldstein (2004):
The Government authorities, too, seem to be trying to make a cat's paw of other countries as much as possible and, if unavoidable, to appear on the final scene to win victory. Consequently they assume the attitude of not minding the continuation of war for five to ten years. Though they are supporting the Soviet Union at present, it is only to make a cat's paw of her, and not because they are friendly to Communist Russia.
What about "Throw under the bus"?
To throw (someone) under the bus is an idiomatic phrase in American English meaning to sacrifice a friend or ally for selfish reasons.
In your examples, it might work like:
Uncle Sam has thrown us under the bus.
Don't throw me under the bus!
The closest I can think if is "guinea pig" - after a lab animal used as test subjects for risky research.
In a more military vein you could use cannon fodder - troops used to distract the cannons while your good troops move elsewhere, or even a forlorn hope - troops that are first to charge a fort to occupy the defenders while the other troops approach.
None has the colorful imagery of the original, though.
I prefer the term "cannon fodder". While it's not necessarily an idiom, its meaning is to convey you using an ally or person to engage them in risky or dangerous acts, such as whacking a nettlebush with your dick.
Cannon fodder is an informal, derogatory term for combatants who are regarded or treated as expendable in the face of enemy fire.
I don't think there's an exact idiom, but these may be close:
When someone "passes the buck", they are passing on responsibility to someone else. For example, "John didn't want to take responsibility for the failed project, so he passed the buck and blamed it on his manager."
When someone participates in a deal, bargain, or situation, the person who gets the "short end of the stick" comes off worse. In this case, you might say "Hungarians are getting the short end of the stick on these US economic sanctions."
Liable to get hurt. For example, you might say "The US in putting Hungary in harm's way over these economic sanctions" meaning the Hungary now is in danger of getting hurt.
Generally, this directly implies physical hurt (like war), so you might specify "Hungary's economy" to avoid this connotation.
To do someone wrong is to do something that injures are harms someone, often because of negligence or stupidity. Often implies unfaithfulness. For example, "John did me wrong when he slept with Kate, and now we're going to get a divorce."
Here, you might say "Uncle Sam did Hungarians wrong when he enforced economic sanctions against Russia."
A very close mid-western US equivalent--- not common but most people would get it immediately--- would be "getting someone else to piss on the fence." We have electric fencing all over out here (Missouri) and urinating on one... well. Much of the region is long stretches of road and short on amenities. If you really have to go by the side of the road, there is going to be a fence and it may or may not be electric. If you let the other guy piss first, you know whether the fence is live or not.
Someone who asks others to fight a war (e.g. a politician advocating an invasion), but has never fought themselves, and has no intention of doing so, is called a chickenhawk.
This may be a little more specific than the Hungarian idiom, but it's the same concept (asking others to "carry out one's rash or risky ideas, usually for the person's own benefit").
I think the original phrase, translated directly as the OP did, conveys the idea perfectly without the need for a "Original English" idiom. Two hundred years down the line there may be a forum of people wondering what the origin of the English idiom "Beating the nettle with someone else's penis" is.
Language is a dynamic, live thing, and as the speakers of different languages interact they enrich each other.
I google®ed "useful idiots," a phrase which was widely attributed to Lenin. The Wikipedia® article on the phrase, in so many words, stated that, among his works, the phrase could not be found. Not wanting to go away empty-handed, I abstracted the following from the article:
"In the Russian language, the equivalent term 'useful fools' (полезные дураки, tr. polezniye duraki) was in use at least in 1941."
The sense that I gleaned from the article was that the phrase is mostly used to denote advocacy or verbal defense.