How to describe someone who chooses the worst option (way) to do their work(s)and this puts he/she in trouble.

Persian speakers have an idiom for such a situation that its literal translation is something like:

Blowing the horn from the opposite direction.

So, is there any equivalent idiom or phrase to describe the case?

  • In an old Beyond the Fringe skit, a speaker cited "running at the coalface flush with your head" as one of the "myriad of ways of getting out the coal"—specifically, the "bad method." It seems to me that "running at the coalface flush with your head" is an excellent phrase to describe "choosing the worst way for doing the work," whatever the work may be.
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented Aug 13, 2015 at 1:40
  • Counterproductive is an adjective qualifying an action making the thing you want to happen less likely to happen. It applies to the action, not to the man who made the action.
    – Graffito
    Commented Aug 13, 2015 at 14:44
  • 1
    I am also thinking at "shooting oneself in the foot", that means to cause oneself difficulty, to be the author of one's own misfortune. Example: Again, he shot himself in the foot by saying too much to the press.
    – Graffito
    Commented Aug 13, 2015 at 15:18

3 Answers 3


I believe the idiom put the cart before the horse applies here.

Fig. to have things in the wrong order; to have things confused and mixed up. (Also with have.) You're eating your dessert first! You've put the cart before the horse. John has the cart before the horse in most of his projects.
The Free Dictionary by Farlex

The more vulgar version of the same idea is ass-backward (or its synonymous alteration, backassward).

: ludicrously disordered : showing an arrangement grotesquely counter to the usual or workable <incompetents doing their work in an ass-backward way>

  • 3
    Also common is: back-assward.
    – Oldbag
    Commented Aug 12, 2015 at 12:33
  • @Oldbag: Thanks. Whenever I hear it used, I think I always just translate it back in my head.
    – jxh
    Commented Aug 12, 2015 at 15:40
  • The vulgar version fits, but "cart before the horse" --in my experience --specifically means putting things in the wrong temporal order, not just doing things wrongly. Commented Aug 12, 2015 at 20:23
  • @ChrisSunami: I agree that is the most common usage, but I have heard it used to generally mean "you've done it wrong", especially when the user of the phrase believes there was an obvious right way. Wiktionary, FWIW, lists ass-backward as a synonym of "cart before the horse*.
    – jxh
    Commented Aug 12, 2015 at 20:31

Although not figurative nor nearly as descriptive or cool as the Persian idiom that you mention, telling someone that:

he’s/she’s/you’re going about it the wrong way

kind of captures the idea in a literal, yet slightly different and idiomatic way (I say “kind of” because “the wrong way” doesn’t necessarily mean “the worst way”).

See the example in the provided link (to Your Dictionary) under “Classic Dialogues" (and below):

Foghorn Leghorn: [So you’re looking for a husband?] Well, you're going about it the wrong way, sister. You don't bat 'em on the bean with a rolling pin. That comes later.


It is not an idiom, but this word should work. The word is "inefficient." As a computer science major, I am learning algorithms. And the point of algorithms is to solve real-world problems efficiently. So when there are two programs who do the exact same task, but one performs very poorly. For the program that faired poorly, computer scientists tend to say, "the program performed inefficiently." This term is not exclusive to computer science, and it usually does come with a negative connotation but does not necessarily mean that the person (or in this case programmer) gets in trouble. So you can say, "He works inefficiently."

  • Another word could be counterproductive.
    – jxh
    Commented Aug 13, 2015 at 1:36

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.