I'm looking for an idiom or proverb that can be used for describing a situation in which someone's actions or behaviors are in favor of their opponents or enemies; in other words it seems that they are serving their enemies' or opponents' interests (usually unintentionally).

There is an Iranian proverb that says :

"To provide water for (turning) the enemy's mill"

This proverb mostly is used among politicians when they are accusing each other of giving advantages to the country's enemies, their opponents or the opposite parties.

For example:

It is supposed that a public election be held for choosing the members of the parliament on 26 February in Iran. Regarding the importance of this election, the supreme leader of the country has asked the politicians to stop using discouraging words or showing reactions that would lead people not to participate in the election. Because if the election is not recieved well by the people, it would be considered as a sign of their dissatisfaction from the current leaders and thus "would provide water for the country's enemies' mill".

What do English speakers use in this situation that can convey the same meaning?

I have come across this title " loading the gun of the enemy" in a website, but couldn't find it as a set phrase in available dictionaries.

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  • 1
    In Tamil, there's a colloquial saying, which roughly translates into English as - "Don't put the devil in your undergarments". In you case, the devil here refers to public anger caused by any malicious actions by the politicians(hate speech, racial slurs) that would put the party in a precarious position before the election phase (metaphorically refers to the burning sensation in the underpants :D)
    – BiscuitBoy
    Commented Feb 25, 2016 at 3:59
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    One possible but not great term would be "handicapping" yourself in a competition or contest.
    – TylerH
    Commented Feb 25, 2016 at 15:29

10 Answers 10


You could say they would be playing into the hands of the enemy.

play into somebody's hands

to do something that gives someone else an advantage over you, although this was not your intention

If we allow terrorists to disrupt our lives to that extent we're just playing into their hands.

Cambridge Idioms Dictionary, 2nd ed.. (2006). Retrieved February 24 2016 from http://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/play+into+hands

According to this source, the expression originated from playing cards, specifically the game bridge. The source gives nice outline of its emergence:

A part of the game’s strategy is to force your opponent to play certain cards. If you manage to do so, then she or he is playing into your hand, giving you an advantage. The expression is often pluralized into playing into someone’s hands. This slight modification has resulted in obscuring the origin of the meaning, making people think of a body part, when actually in card games your hand, refers to the cards you are holding. This meaning goes all the way back to the 16th century as well.

This idiom is very common in the UK, and is also often said with emphasis and pluralised as mentioned above:

played it right into my hands

Searching for the above on Google Books will give you plenty of examples of the use of this phrase in print.


  • Thanks for your quick reply,@Charon. Can I say "Those discouraging words would finally play into the enemy's hand"?
    – Soudabeh
    Commented Feb 24, 2016 at 18:45
  • 2
    I'm not sure of your context but I don't think it's idiomatic to use finally there, I'd simply say saying those discouraging words would be playing into the enemy's hands
    – Charon
    Commented Feb 24, 2016 at 18:50
  • @Soudabeh No problem :) please notice however that I've made a little edit to my comment.
    – Charon
    Commented Feb 24, 2016 at 18:52
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    @Soudabeh Might be useful to note that this phrase comes from playing cards.
    – DCShannon
    Commented Feb 25, 2016 at 1:57
  • What @DCShannon said. I'm in a nit-picky mood, so I'm downvoting because if the etymology of a figurative usage isn't blindingly obvious, it must be explained in the actual text as presented here. Commented Feb 25, 2016 at 2:22

give [sb] a stick to beat you with.

Example: If things go badly, you may be giving your opponents a stick to beat you with.

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    That's old school right there.
    – Stu W
    Commented Feb 25, 2016 at 3:22
  • +1 I think this fits the intended usage rather well (creating an opportunity for others to criticise), but you should probably add a link to an example definition etc. There's also "Making a rod for your own back", but I think your one is better, I believe the "rod" one is British English only and the meaning is less obvious (it's less obvious that the rod is for beating/whipping your back with). Commented Feb 25, 2016 at 9:43
  • What's [sb] mean? Commented Feb 25, 2016 at 14:33
  • @Carcigenicate - [sb] stands for the optional word "somebody" .
    – Graffito
    Commented Feb 25, 2016 at 17:24

It may not be so common in AmE, but in BrE you can certainly...

(score) an own goal
something that someone does to try to get an advantage, but which makes a situation worse for them
Usage notes: In sport, an own goal is when someone scores a point for the opposite team by mistake.

  • 3
    We'd be familiar with that in the US, although some might think of hockey rather than soccer.
    – DCShannon
    Commented Feb 25, 2016 at 1:54
  • @DCShannon Even moreso here in Canada. Commented Feb 25, 2016 at 14:34


give someone all the ammunition they need; give someone ammunition to use against someone/oneself

ammunition: A means of attacking or defending an argument, thesis, or point of view. American Heritage® Dictionary

Google Books

be (all) grist for someone's mill

grist for someone's mill: Something that can be used to advantage. American Heritage® Dictionary

In retirement, Gehlen bitterly complained, “For week after week the [Felfe] affair continued to hold the newspaper headlines: his character, his Nazi past, and his subsequent treachery were all grist for their mill, resulting in exaggerated reports. A Nazi Past

fuel someone's arguments

Google Books

make it easy for someone

make oneself an easy target


make oneself a sitting duck

sitting duck: an easy target FOD

give someone a through ball

through ball: (Soccer) A forward pass which goes through the opposing team’s defense.

  • 1
    +1, to speak to the example: "saying those discouraging words would be giving them all the ammunition they need"
    – DCShannon
    Commented Feb 25, 2016 at 1:55

If you made it unexpectedly easy for an opponent to win, you "handed them victory on a silver platter."

In which case, their victory came "gift-wrapped."


Perhaps the most famous expression to this effect in recent U.S. history is the remark by Richard Nixon to David Frost in an interview conducted in 1977, speaking of his political enemies:

I gave them a sword, and they stuck it in and they twisted it with relish.

The resulting expression—"to give [one's enemies] a sword"—is not especially widely used in the United States, but the original quotation is widely remembered, and sometimes used in the same figurative way. Thus, Kate Michelman, Protecting the Right to Choose (2007) includes this passage:

He [Bill Clinton] continued to veto anti-choice measures, including the abortion ban, despite the [Lewinsky] scandal. And nothing about the situation justified impeachment, a grave step vastly out of proportion to the offense, however personally inexcusable it was. The right wing was dedicated to the personal destruction of President Clinton, but to paraphrase Richard Nixon, "He gave them a sword."


Relevant, but perhaps not completely on the mark:

To shoot oneself in the foot

"To do or say something that inadvertently undermines one's interests."

It misses out on notion of directly helping an enemy, but that can be taken care of by constructing the sentence well.

  • This one has much in common with cut off one's nose (to spite one's face), in that it's not a very successful tactic. But it doesn't really evoke allusions to "helping the enemy". Commented Feb 25, 2016 at 2:18
  • Yeah, completely agree, it sort of has the same idea - undermining your own interests certainly might help your enemy - but the "helping" is passive/incidental rather than active and direct which the original saying implies
    – Bamboo
    Commented Feb 25, 2016 at 3:14
  • Perhaps someone will post To give up :) Commented Feb 25, 2016 at 12:30
  • also: to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory
    – Mike Jones
    Commented Apr 30, 2016 at 18:58

Your example infers that certain action would negatively affect voter turnout which would affect many people negatively but if you could speak in a collective sense, the people opting not to vote would be "cutting off their nose to spite their face".

The definition for this expression on UsingEnglish.com is:

" If you cut off your nose to spite your face, you do something rash or silly that ends up making things worse for you, often because you are angry or upset."

  • 1
    I'm not sure this is really central to the concept of "promoting one's enemy's cause", but it certainly raises the interesting issue of whether multiple people should be accused of cutting off their nose to spite their face(s) (About 833 results in Google Books) or cutting off their noses to spite their face(s?!) (About 1,230 results). How many people? How many noses? I think we should be told! Commented Feb 25, 2016 at 2:13

To "throw the game" is a similar idiom, though perhaps not conveying the exact meaning you want of being unintentional. It is a common phrase in sporting events and means intentionally making moves or plays to give your opponent an advantage, or to diminish your own, usually resulting in a win for your opponent.


Another phrase is ""to carry water for someone" or "to carry their water".

From Wictionary:

"To do someone's bidding; to serve someone's interests."

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