I'm working on a translation with the guidelines to make it as accurate as possible, so dynamic equivalence is important. My provisional translation is "to screw up royally," but it feels a bit too extreme compared to the original phrase.

EDIT: I belatedly realized I should've explained the context better.

The (Ukrainian) idiom literally translates as "to break firewood." It's meant to evoke the image of chopping logs incorrectly or incompetently, thus ruining them for their intended use. The translated sentence reads as follows:

"Yes, on one hand it may be correct to catch a bunch of smugglers, but on the other, it is possible to break firewood."

The context of the sentence is that simply capturing criminals while disregarding the underlying cause for their existence -- the local population's mentality and socioeconomic status -- is (as the used idiom indicates) a mistake that will carry a repeated or cumulative negative effect.

I hope this explains things better and my apologies for doing such a poor job of it the first time around.

  • Nifty question. How is this idiom used in other contexts? Does it take an object of some kind, e.g. 'chop [something] into firewood' or 'chop something to splinters', or does it always stand by itself, with firewood as the object of break? Aug 21, 2015 at 18:51
  • There's systemic problem but I don't like it for this translation at all.
    – Mazura
    Aug 21, 2015 at 18:58
  • This may catch some of the correct flavour: "Yes, on one hand it may be correct to catch a bunch of smugglers, but on the other, you may instead arrest the Mayor's daughter." Aug 21, 2015 at 20:03

8 Answers 8


I'd suggest "make a hash of", which is defined by oxforddictionaries.com as "make a mess of; bungle".

This phrase seems especially apt as a translation of the original Ukranian idiom because the origin of the verb "to hash" is given by the Online Etymology Dictionary as "from French hacher 'chop up' (14c.), from Old French hache 'ax' (see hatchet)".

  • I do like this the best from all the suggestions. Points for the answer go to you.
    – Maxymiuk
    Aug 22, 2015 at 15:23

I think the saying throw the baby out with the bathwater can suggest the idea you want to express:

  • to get rid of the good parts as well as the bad parts of something when you are trying to improve it.

    • I don't think we should throw the baby out with the bath water. There are some good features of the present system that I think we should retain. (AHD)
  • Though it is right to arrest criminals, if you don't reeducate them it is like throwing out the baby with the bath water.

My first thought was "blunder." I am not sure of the context of your needed phrase, but using "to screw up royally" as a substitute:

"He blundered through his introduction" "She blundered through the obstacle course"

alternately-- "to mess up" ; "to goof up"

  • I edited my original question to give better context. "Blunder" is slightly better than what I came up with, but still doesn't really fit.
    – Maxymiuk
    Aug 21, 2015 at 17:29

Can you make use of "make a muck of"?


make a muck of › to spoil something or do something very badly: I've made a muck of it - I'll have to do it again.

Alternatively, you may also consider "play havoc with"


play havoc with something 1. to cause someone to have trouble doing something Strong winds played havoc with her golf game. 2. to damage something Stormy conditions played havoc with the fishing.


Do you need an idiom, or would a more plain explanation work?

"Yes, on one hand, it may be correct to imprison a bunch of smugglers, but on the other, that doesn't solve the problem."

or 'that doesn't get at the root of the problem' if you like your idioms. That seems to be consistent with what the original text is trying to get across.


The choice will be affected by how firmly the observer's temper is under control.

Misapprehend the situation ( thesaurus.com ) for the 'buttoned up,'

synonyms: misconstrue ; misinterpret; get the wrong idea/ wrong impression

Get it arseways (thedialectdictionary) for the uninhibited,

complete mess.


to crash and burn, and similarly, to go down in flames, both can mean to fail spectacularly.


Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

Originally a quote from George Santayana, it has been paraphrased into multiple idiomatic forms, such as "if you forget your mistakes you are doomed to repeat them."

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