The latest news that Serena Williams lost the semi-final round of U.S. Open to an unseeded Italian player, Roberta Vinci, whom Williams had never lost in the past reminded me of Japanese proverb, 'Jouzu-no tekara mizu ga ochiru,' of which literal translation is ‘Water leaks even from expert's hands,’ meaning even a perfect expert makes a mistake, or loses chances, which can be never retreived like shed water.

We have several proverbs in the same token such as 'Kobo mo fudeno ayamachi' – Even Kobo (774 -835), a Japanese Buddhist saint known for a master of calligraphy makes a mistakes of stroke, and 'Sarumo kikara ochiru' meaning “even a monkey (who should be a master of tree climbing and hopping around branches) falls from a tree.”

Are there English proverbs or idioms that figuratively describe that an expert or perfect player makes a great mistake sometimes?

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    It's not quite the same but here's one, 'The bigger they are, the harder they fall' --> usingenglish.com/reference/idioms/… Commented Sep 14, 2015 at 19:09
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    Similar to @chaslyfromUK's suggestion: "how the mighty have fallen!" This is disparaging and would be said if the person who made the mistake had been overconfident/a braggart, not simply for an unexpected result.
    – vstrong
    Commented Sep 14, 2015 at 19:22
  • Even Jove nods. Commented Sep 14, 2015 at 19:34
  • Oscar Wilde defined an expert as "An ordinary man away from home giving advice".
    – Graffito
    Commented Sep 14, 2015 at 21:56
  • 1
    Man, what about about "It happens to the best of us"? Commented Mar 14, 2017 at 4:21

9 Answers 9


There are a couple of classical references: Homer nods, or Even Jove nods (formerly well-known, as in this Kipling quote; but nobody seems certain whether there is a Latin original, or somebody just 'upgraded' the reference).

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    it's a perfect idiom but I don't think it's very well known.
    – Kim
    Commented Sep 15, 2015 at 2:56
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    I find the explanation of “Even Homer nods” by ‘the hindu com’ is close to the case of Serena William’s loss of the game and Japanese proverb, “Even Kobo makes mistakes of stroke sometimes in his calligraphy." It says ”What the idiom means is ‘nobody is perfect’: even someone as great as Homer ended up making mistakes in his two epics.the Greek poet who wrote two great epics: the Iliad and the Odyssey. The word ‘nod’ in this context means to ‘fall asleep’. What happens when you are at work and feel drowsy? As you are unable to think clearly, you begin to make numerous mistakes.” Commented Sep 19, 2015 at 0:49

"She's only human" is a common phrase used to remind one that no matter how great the person's achievements, they are, after all, only a human being with the occasional same set of flaws and frailties as the rest of our species.


I suggest the following sayings which, though not figurative, are close in meaning to what you are referring to:

We all make mistakes:

  • used for telling someone not to worry about something that they have done wrong.


and nobody's perfect:

  • Used when someone's mistakes or flaws are acknowledged, to remind that everyone else makes mistakes and has flaws.


  • Not really figurative though.
    – Rohcana
    Commented Sep 14, 2015 at 19:18
  • No, but as close to the meaning OP is looking for as I could find.
    – user66974
    Commented Sep 14, 2015 at 19:21
  • Similar to these 2 expressions: "no one is infallible".
    – Graffito
    Commented Sep 16, 2015 at 22:44

'Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory' is an ionic reversal of an older idiom.

(idiomatic) To suddenly lose a contest one seemed very likely to win, especially through mistakes or bad judgment.

  • I presume ionic should be corrected to ironic, but there's a small possibility that it should be iconic so I'm not proposing an edit. Commented Sep 15, 2015 at 7:20
  • nope - I meant 'ironic' of course. I'll leave your thought out there though, and not correct it.
    – JHCL
    Commented Sep 15, 2015 at 8:08

"Achilles heel," perhaps?

Wikipedia defines it as "a weakness in spite of overall strength, which can actually or potentially lead to downfall."

In Greek mythology, when Achilles was a baby, it was foretold that he would die young. To prevent his death, his mother Thetis took Achilles to the River Styx, which was supposed to offer powers of invulnerability, and dipped his body into the water. But as Thetis held Achilles by the heel, his heel was not washed over by the water of the magical river. Achilles grew up to be a man of war who survived many great battles. But one day, a poisonous arrow shot at him was lodged in his heel, killing him shortly after.

So Achilles was greatly powerful (an "expert" in this sense), but he had a single weakness which led to his demise.

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    A good response; however, Achilles' heel refers to an inherent, even insurmountable, flaw, as opposed to a momentary lapse of skill or judgment. Roberta Vinci did not exploit some known weakness in Serena William's technique, but capitalized on uncharacteristicaly poor play.
    – choster
    Commented Sep 15, 2015 at 1:08

Not exact but related idiom is the bigger they are, the harder they fall

When prominent people fail, their failure is more dramatic. After the newspapers reported that the mayor cheated on his wife, he lost the election and he can't get any kind of job. The bigger they are, the harder they fall. Jackson used to be very wealthy, but he lost every cent in the stock market crash. The bigger they are, the harder they fall.


All glory is fleeting and on any given Sunday even the best can “meet their match.”

To [finally] meet one's/your match (from The Free Dictionary):

Fig. to meet one's equal; to encounter someone who can match or outdo one in some activity, talent, etc.

John played tennis with Bill yesterday, and it looks as if John has finally met his match.

Listen to Jane and Mary argue. I always thought that Jane was loud, but she has finally met her match.

to meet someone who is able to defeat you in an argument or a competition

The world chess champion finally met his match when he was beaten by a computer.

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    Disagree with this - the implication of an expert having 'met their match' is that the opponent was fundamentally better than them - even if the expert played at their best. The OP is asking for a description in which the expert made a mistake and was responsible for the defeat not the opponent
    – Brondahl
    Commented Sep 15, 2015 at 11:17

I like to use "found a chink in her armor". "The idiom "chink in one's armor" refers to an area of vulnerability. It has traditionally been used to refer to a weak spot in a figurative suit of armor." This more so refers to the other person finding a weakness, rather then the expert making a mistake. However, I guess if the opponent found a weakness, then that would be as a result of the expert making a slip up. I would be interested if anyone has any feedback on this.

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    Isn't it like the Achilles'tendon? Commented Sep 15, 2015 at 1:38

When an expert or sports professional allows ones nerves to get the best of him/her and unsettle his normally superior play, that is what you call choking.

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