Is there any idiom for doing something intentionally despite knowing the outcome might be bad, or an expression for a person who does such a thing?

For example, I know that if I ask someone a particular question, I might not bear the disturbing answer, but I still ask the question. Is there any idiom for this kind of act where you know the answer wouldn't make you happy but you're still asking the question?

In Urdu/Hindi, there is something similar, the translation of which would be "having insect". To make a sentence out of it, it would sound something like:

"He has insect that's why he went to cinema"

It means that the person knew going to cinema would generate some negative outcome but he still did.

  • 2
    What original language is this? – Mitch Sep 8 '15 at 17:56
  • 2
    He is a "masochist" if he is gratified by pain, degradation, etc., that is self-imposed or he is a "stoic person" if he accepts what happens without complaining or showing emotion. – Graffito Sep 8 '15 at 19:38
  • 2
    @mitch It is an idiom in Urdu/ Hindi language – user3293145 Sep 8 '15 at 21:14
  • 1
    Can you give the full word for word translation (or the original in Hindi or Urdu)? (so that we can try to get all the nuances straight). – Mitch Sep 9 '15 at 0:54
  • 4
    Is the behaviour around acting in spite of the negative outcome, or acting to deliberately incite that outcome? And if the latter, is it to gain perverse benefit/pleasure from the effect on others or the person acting? – Keith Sep 9 '15 at 4:57

21 Answers 21


One could be said to be acting against one's better judgement (Contrary to what one feels to be wise or sensible).


An idiom in particular and not a defined word for the matter, I have always been partial to "playing with fire".

  • 3
    Someone who's "playing with fire" may not necessarily know he or she is doing so. It's a way of saying that what someone is doing is very risky, but says nothing about that person being aware of these risks. – Neil Sep 10 '15 at 12:37

The one I like to use for this is "testing fate", although it usually indicates a strong slant towards the bad outcome rather than even odds.

  • 10
    I've more often seen "tempting fate" used FWIW. – Sean Duggan Sep 9 '15 at 17:25

In US Naval lore there's the story of Rear Admiral David Farragut at The Battle of Mobile Bay where he was said to have shouted "damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead!" knowing full well he was putting both his ship, the Hartford, as well as the Metacomet which was lashed to her side, into harm's way.

  • 4
    Which incidentally paid off, or we would never have known the phrase existed no doubt. – Neil Sep 10 '15 at 12:38
  • Hah, yes, excellent point. – delliottg Sep 10 '15 at 14:07

"Come what may": is the idiom that can be used the only difference is here you are not sure about the consequences or response.


A good idiom for this is

Going out on a limb

It means that you are going to be taking an intentional risk by going somewhere which has the potential for a bad outcome, but without the guarantee of failure.

There is a post here at English Stack Exchange about the etymology of the phrase Where does "Going out on a limb" come from?


If the person is acting knowing his actions will not only not help him accomplish his goal, but also knows his actions could also have unintended results, then I would use "courting disaster", as in "He is courting disaster by working without the necessary parts".

The phrase "courting disaster" could also be used in a more active sense, by someone who did not have any goal, as in "He is courting disaster by continuing to start fires".


with disregard, heedless, reckless

  • To make a good answer, you should explain why you make your suggestions, and provide such examples, dictionary definitions, or links as appropriate in support. I strongly encourage you to review the help center, which has many helpful guidelines for writing good questions and answers. – choster Sep 8 '15 at 21:55
  • I would say these words don't capture OP's meaning. These words mean that the actor is not aware of or is negligent in concern about danger. OP stated that the actor knows of and cares about the potential for bad outcomes (as in the example about asking for unwelcome information). The words in this answer indicate that the actor has no concern of the outcomes. – user1359 Sep 10 '15 at 15:33

Personally my favorite phrase for something like this is:

Devil may care

  1. Heedless of caution; reckless.

He has a devil may care attitude.


Bite the bullet, which means:

accept the inevitable impending hardship and endure the resulting pain with fortitude. (The Phrase Finder)

  • "Bite the bullet" implies that the negative consequences are inevitable and involuntary. The question seems to be asking for an expression to describe a voluntary action. – 200_success Sep 10 '15 at 3:35
  • @200_success "bite the bullet" suggests inevitable consequences, yes, but not inevitable action. To borrow OP's question example: if you want to know what someone thinks about you, even though it might be negative, maybe you should just bite the bullet and ask them. Asking the question is voluntary despite the potential for negative outcome; exactly what is asked for. +1 from me. – mike32 Sep 10 '15 at 15:21

An expression used especially when speaking of one's self (popularized by the comedian Flip Wilson) is

The devil made me do it

Another is the idiom

Throw caution to the wind(s)

to do something without ​worrying about the ​risk or ​negative ​results


Calculated risk taker, or one who engages in non-rational behavior. Sometimes you junmp off the railroad bridge into the tree for the sheer thrill of it, sometimes you do it because there's a big fat bank bag snagged in the upper branches, and a bridge jump is the best way to get to it.


"Walking close to the edge" or "playing close to the edge" might work.


I think you are looking for the word"heedless" or "heedlessly." The word "heed" as a verb means "to take notice." As a noun, it means "careful attention." Therefore, one who is heedless either takes no notice or pays no attention to things: "Heedless of the police car at the intersection, he did not stop for the red light." "Despite having been warned of the consequences, he heedlessly continued to do it."


Perhaps morbid curiosity, especially for situations where you know the result will be personally repugnant or even disgusting, but you just can't stand not knowing, so you pursue finding out anyway.


I would say that this person is "rolling the dice". Oxforddictionaries.com defines a "roll of the dice" as "a risky attempt to do or achieve something".


Come hell or high water comes to mind as meaning one is going to do what one is going to do regardless of the final outcome.


A glutton for punishment - a person who willingly undertakes a task knowing it will be making their life harder.

I like this idiom as it is predominately used as compliment to someone hard working, taking on big task (e.g. Rachel is a glutton for punishment, always burning the midnight-oil) but is also commonly used to refer to people who keep getting into trouble for something they should know is wrong (e.g. Are you a glutton for punishment Billy? This is your fourth detention for punching Sam)


I've got nothing left to lose so might as well post this as an answer.

Seriously the implication of that statement might be the person saying it has little choice left, but I do feel "nothing left to lose" implies an optimistic outlook on an overwhelmingly pessimistic situation.


To "plough ahead" can imply doing something without hesitating or without regard to the consequences. The example in your question would be something like:

"He didn't know if he would like the answer, but he ploughed ahead with the question anyway"

Note: British "plough" vs American "plow"


The description of what you want doesn't really seem to fit your example.

There is a German idiom related to what you described: "Wenn es dem Esel zu wohl wird, geht er aufs Eis". (Literal translation: "When the donkey gets too comfortable it walks onto the ice.")

It's relatively easy to translates German idioms into English using online sources, but in this case the only thing I could find was: "Complacency makes one reckless". It has the same meaning, but it's much more abstract.

There is also a German idiom that doesn't really fit your description but comes very close to the idiom you used in your example, and so does its English translation:

"Er hat Hummeln im Hintern" - literal translation: "He has bumblebees in his posterior" - English idiom: "He has ants in the pants".

Finally, you may also be interested in a simple adjective/adverb and noun related to both situations: wanton(ly) and wantonness. It's a legal term used for doing something bad intentionally rather than negligently.

Also capricious(ly) and capriciousness for the more harmless, less destructive variant.

Putting it all together, I offer the following variations on your example:

  • Complacency makes one reckless, so he went to the cinema. [Since it was at the other end of the city and his foot was still swollen, he had to call a taxi when it was over.]
  • He had ants in the pants, so he went to the cinema. [Nothing bad happened.]
  • He wantonly went to the cinema. [So the Americans bombed the cinema, as could be expected since he was carrying Osama Bin Laden's mobile phone. 35 'terrorists', 24 women and 43 children died. He was one of the few survivors.]
  • He capriciously went to the cinema. [When he returned, his wife nearly killed him, saying he was a worthless bastard.]

I have included typical examples showing how you would use each word or phrase. The connotations are really quite different.

protected by Community Sep 10 '15 at 9:47

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

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