In Assamese there is an idiom that means 'striking unnecessarily hard when the opponent is already weakened'. Is there any such idiom in English that could mean the same?

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    Also, when and where would you use the idiom? Please give a scenario and a paragraph that shows its usage in context. A simple translation from one language to another provides the words but not the meaning. Thanks. Sep 25, 2015 at 12:08
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    You could use "to kill a fly with a sledgehammer", "shooting fish in a barrel". The last one contains the notion of something already caught, so in a weakened state.
    – P. O.
    Sep 25, 2015 at 12:11
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    @P.Obertelli - Or we could stop guessing and wait for the OP to make it clear what is wanted. Sep 25, 2015 at 12:16
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    Perhaps "overkill".
    – Kyslik
    Sep 25, 2015 at 15:02
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    @chasly from uk The meaning seemed clear to me. What did not you understand in 'striking unnecessarily hard when [an] opponent is already weakened' ? I don't see what is it to guess, neither the other 6 who answered op. Are you sure you don't unnecessarily try to complicate things?
    – P. O.
    Sep 25, 2015 at 15:20

15 Answers 15


There is 'kicking a man when he's down'

verb To kick a man when he's down is to attack at the persons weakest moment. It defies the gentlemanly code of ethics, and does detract from reputation. Used literally or figuratively, it still has pretty much the same meaning.


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    I like this, but it's not clear to me that it means the same thing as the idiom the op asked about - reading it literally, the OPs idiom might refer to wasting resources or all sorts of other things.
    – Cubic
    Sep 25, 2015 at 18:01
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    It doesn't mean the same at all. OP's question is about unnecessarily using too much force to attack an enemy, this idiom is about being an asshole and, well, kicking someone when they are already down. It doesn't mean you're the one who brought him down at all.
    – Davor
    Sep 27, 2015 at 20:05
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    I think @Davor is reading far too much into the words 'striking unnecessarily hard when the opponent is already weakened'. There is nothing there which says "you're the one who brought him down". To "kick a man when he's down" means exactly the same as 'striking unnecessarily hard when the opponent is already weakened'. I mean, Sep 28, 2015 at 9:09
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    @DewiMorgan - "oponent" does imply that you are already legitimely fighting this person, and not just kicking hobos in passing because you're an ass.
    – Davor
    Sep 28, 2015 at 9:14
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    @Davor If you attack someone, they are your opponent. It's fixable if you need absolute specificity, by saying "kick an opponent when he's down". Feels unnecessary though. I admit the English term can also carry the more figurative meaning "pile bad things on someone who's already in a poor position". But the literal sense seems the stronger, and I can't find any dictionaries which don't use the term "attack" in their definition. I'd also be willing to bet that the Assamese saying can carry the same figurative meaning. Sep 28, 2015 at 10:05

It's not an idiom, but perhaps the word overkill might work.

Overkill: Excessive use, treatment or action

Source: Oxford Dictionaries Online (http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/overkill)

One of the usage examples on this page is

While it may seem like overkill, the military was finally satisfied.

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    Haha, what's the downvote for, downvoter?
    – Tragicomic
    Sep 25, 2015 at 16:56
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    "There is no kill like overkill."
    – Joshua
    Sep 25, 2015 at 22:43
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    @Tragicomic - wasn't me, but I'd guess it's because overkill has zero need for subject of the overkill to be already in a weakened state, which is an important part of the OP. Sep 26, 2015 at 3:20


To kick someone while they're down: Originating from the fighting ring where it's bad form to keep beating a person while they're down or out, it now also means to make things worse for someone who is going through a difficult time.

While not perfect, there's also:

Hitting below the belt: Striking out, either physically or verbally, in an unfair way.

  • Beaten to it by 30 seconds...
    – Julia
    Sep 25, 2015 at 12:16
  • It was always gonna be a race to post :)
    – Marv Mills
    Sep 25, 2015 at 12:16
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    Striking unfairly does not necessarily mean striking when one is already weakened. The kicking while they're down fits, but not so much the hitting below the belt. Hitting unfairly doesn't mean the person is previously weakened, which is an important component of the OP. Sep 25, 2015 at 17:22

In American English we call that taking a cheap shot (TFD):

cheap shot n
1. (in sports) a blow, shove, or tackle maliciously directed against an opponent who is defenseless or off guard.
2. any mean or unsportsmanlike remark or action, esp. one directed at a defenseless or vulnerable person.


Shooting a sitting duck.

sitting duck Fig. someone or something vulnerable to attack, physical or verbal.

(Idioms by The Free Dictionary)

  • there's also "ducks in a barrel" type of thing...
    – Fattie
    Sep 25, 2015 at 14:31
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    A sitting duck is not necessarily weak. It might simply be obvlivious to the threat... sitting duck doesn't imply any sort of prior damage. Sep 26, 2015 at 4:11

A few more relevant idioms meaning to use too much force to accomplish something (not necessarily implying that one is involved in a battle or a physical fight, but may be that as well):

To use a sledgehammer to crack a nut.

A similar one is to break a butterfly on the wheel

To overkill

To use a cannon to kill a fly (and its variants like to kill a mosquito with a bazooka)

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    The concept of overkill covers the idea of striking unnecessarily hard, but not necessarily the idea of striking someone already weakened (which is an important component of the OP). Sep 25, 2015 at 17:20

rub salt in the wound - The person has an injury, and throwing salt on an open wound will sting even more.


There is a concept in American English called "running up the score". It means to thrash the opponent after you've already won, or to embarrass them in an unsportsmanlike fashion, because you're so much more capable than they are.


to pile on, piling on "To add or increase (something, such as criticism) abundantly or excessively." (Free Dictionary)

Talk about me babe, if you must
Throw on the dirt, pile on the dust
I'd do the same thing if I could
You know what they say, they say it's all good

(Bob Dylan, It's All Good)


For a slightly different nuance, consider adding insult to injury. This has the same basic meaning as "kicking someone when they're down," but implies a more calculated breed of overkill. Someone who kicks their opponent while they're down might only be doing it because they are so angry they haven't noticed that their opponent is no longer fighting back. Someone who adds insult to injury has coldly thought about it and decided that honor is not satisfied with injury alone.


In American football, there is a foul called "unnecessary roughness". For example, in the NFL, if the player with the ball falls down (rules are different if the player is pushed down) and is already lying on the ground, then the defensive player only has to touch him in order to tackle him. A hard hit in this situation may bring an unnecessary roughness penalty.

In common English, you could use it as a noun. "Why did you yell at him in the meeting? Don't you think that was unnecessary roughness?"


being prudent

Several other posters have given straightforward translations, but usually there is no way to tell if your opponent is in a position to retaliate until long, long after the decisive blow landed.

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    Yours is a form of intelligence that is rarely appreciated. Sep 27, 2015 at 14:54
  • witty, but doesn't really answer the original question May 2, 2017 at 14:31

Unreasonable or excessive force.

That is a legal definition that applies specifically to police. But the same concept can be, and commonly is, applied to any other person.

  • Unreasonable force applies to everyone. It is just heard a lot in regards to police because it can be a good defence.
    – Terry
    Sep 28, 2015 at 8:27
  • Correct. The specific definition I linked to applies only to police. But the actual terminology isn't limited in normal context.
    – MichaelS
    Sep 28, 2015 at 8:31

Flogging a dead horse (alternatively beating a dead horse, or beating a dead dog in some parts of the Anglophone world) is an idiom that means a particular request or line of conversation is already foreclosed or otherwise resolved, and any attempt to continue it is futile; or that to continue in any endeavour (physical, mental, etc.) is a waste of time as the outcome is already decided.

  • That idiom doesn't apply to this situation at all. The literal interpretation of it would seem to (IE a dead horse is weakened) but actually, the idiom has no relationship to a weakened target. Sep 26, 2015 at 4:12
  • In the origin of this idiom the "dead horse" is on your side! The point is, if your own horse is dead (i.e. you've lost the horse) you can flog it hard, but you won't be able to ride it anywhere. The OP's situation is quite the reverse. He's talking about a situation where someone has basically already won, but uses unnecessary force to finish there opponent off. Sep 26, 2015 at 10:31
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    I always took the 'flogging a dead horse' as meaning futile to continue.
    – Terry
    Sep 26, 2015 at 15:49
  • @steveverrill As commenters have pointed out, the quote from OP can be interpreted as continuing past the point where effort is usefull. While I agree that this quote has the opposite sign of the one in OP, it's also the only answer that actually adresses this interpretation.
    – Taemyr
    Sep 28, 2015 at 8:16

Weather like the kind they’re calling for this weekend here on the US Atlantic coast is a formidable opponent and the local weather guys/gals seem to love to use “one-two punch” (link to The Free Dictionary) and “double whammy” (link to Dictionary[dot]com) to describe what we might be in for.

Or maybe we could say that Joaquin, “as an extra precaution [and] beyond requirements,” is planning “to give us one (an extra kick) for good measure.” (from Collins Dictionaries)

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