I'm seeking a word or phrase that conveys a person's heightened caution or risk aversion regarding a task that stems from prior failure. Something like "gun shy," but perhaps more specific?

  • 2
    I think "gun-shy" is probably about as specific as you can get in a terse phrase.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Apr 5, 2015 at 14:24
  • risk averse or gun shy
    – Drew
    Commented Apr 5, 2015 at 16:26

2 Answers 2


"Once bitten, twice shy."

"Older and (or but) wiser."

  • The 'once bitten, twice shy' saying, apart from being elliptical (not a sentence), uses 'once' in the 'wrong' position. It's in the 'on a previous occasion' position but carries the 'a single time' sense. But 'bitten once ...' just wouldn't sound the same. Commented Apr 5, 2015 at 13:34
  • 1
    It implies "previous occasion" and "single occasion".
    – ChrisW
    Commented Apr 5, 2015 at 13:36
  • No; the 'bitten' references the past. 'Once there / Once we are there, we can rest' obviously doesn't. // It's an unusual usage is all that I'm saying. English is awash with them. Commented Apr 5, 2015 at 14:02
  • The saying puns between the two separate senses of once. Commented Apr 5, 2015 at 14:06
  • @EdwinAshworth - Regardless of how "improper" it is, "once bitten, twice shy" is a very familiar idiom in (US) English. It perhaps comes closest to the OP's desired meaning, but is a bit wordier than some alternatives.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Apr 5, 2015 at 14:27

Circumspect - Unwilling to take risks as there may be danger involved.

Eg. The batsman was very circumspect in playing deliveries outside off-stump, having got away by edging a few early on in his innings. (You'd hear a lot of this in Cricket commentary.)

  • We could also say the batsman was circumspect in his approach given his failure in the previous innings. Commented Apr 5, 2015 at 14:10

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.