Are there idioms or expressions in English that describe going from one bad situation to one that's even worse?

I heard "between a rock and hard place" but this describes a dilemma not really a transition. I am looking for an expression that describes someone trying to get out of a bad situation but after much effort, the situation only got worse.

  • 3
    Never trouble trouble till trouble troubles you
    – Thursagen
    Jun 28, 2011 at 12:30

8 Answers 8


Out of the frying pan, into the fire.


  • 1
    @UpTheCreek, I hope you don't mind my editing, but I added a link. Feel free to rollback :-)
    – Thursagen
    Jun 28, 2011 at 12:42
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    In Swedish we usually say "Out of the ashes and into the fire". I guess it's not an idiom in the english language, but I've always thought that it's a bit more intuitive.
    – Emil H
    Jun 28, 2011 at 13:28
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    On a peculiar note. In Spanish (well, at least in Uruguay) we say from the pot to the frying pan. I guess our book characters have it a little bit better ;P
    – Trufa
    Jun 28, 2011 at 15:41
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    In America, the above is more intuitive to readers/listeners when read literally: jumping "out of the frying pan" (trying to get out of a bad situation) and landing "in the fire" (ending up in a worse situation). It's universally understood, where "out of the ashes" in American parlance is generally used in reference to the Phoenix myth, where good comes out of bad (the Phoenix is born anew out of the ashes of its dying flame), and so the Swedish version might be confusing to American listeners.
    – KeithS
    Jun 28, 2011 at 15:44
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    Not to mention the fact that "out of the ashes" doesn't make a whole lot of sense since if you are in the ashes you are most likely already in the fire as well. It's not much of a transition...whereas "out of the frying pan" is a completely new situation...
    – richard
    Jun 28, 2011 at 16:17

There's always the old saw:

Jumping from the frying pan into the fire.

Not quite an idiom, but a somewhat familiar expression is

Discovering that the light at the end of the tunnel is the headlight of an oncoming train.

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    haha - the train one wasn't familiar to me, so for a while at least it'll be a striking image rather than a cliche. Jun 28, 2011 at 12:41
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    It's usually a call and response joke: "I think I see the light at the end of the tunnel" - "No, that's a train".
    – KeithS
    Jun 28, 2011 at 16:53
  • I know that one from the Half-Man Half-Biscuit song. Some info about the origin: lawsoflife.co.uk/lowells-law
    – z7sg Ѫ
    Jun 28, 2011 at 17:19
  • youtube.com/…
    – JiminP
    Jun 29, 2011 at 14:18

From bad to worse

Transition period - "It went downhill from there"

More at http://another-word-for.com/another_word_for_go-from-bad-to-worse.html

@Robusto had a funny one - Here are my favourites:

Before we stood on the edge of the precipice, now we have take a great step forward.

Before we were with our backs against the wall, now we have done a 180 degree turn.


Here's some interesting history on the frying pan phrase from From A Hog on Ice by Charles Earle Funk with some alternate versions:

TO JUMP OUT OF THE FRYING PAN INTO THE FIRE - "The same expression or one closely allied to it is common to many languages; in the second century the Greek equivalent was 'out of the smoke into the flame'; the Italian and Portuguese, 'to fall from the frying pan into the coals'; the Gaelic, 'out of the cauldron into the fire,' and the French, from which the English may be a translation,' to leap from the frying pan into the fire ('tomber de la poéle dans le feu')' The sense of the expression has always been to escape one evil predicament by leaping into another just as bad or worse. The English usage is traceable to a religious argument that arose between William Tyndale, translator of the Bible into English, and Sir Thomas More, best remembered now as the author of Utopia. The argument started in 1528 upon the publication of a paper by More, 'A Dialoge concerning Heresyes.' This elicited a treatise from Tyndale in 1530, 'An answerer unto Sir Thomas Mores Dialoge,' and this in turn brought forth from More, two years later, 'The Confutacyon of Tyndales Answere,' wherein More brings in our expression, saying that his adversary 'featly conuayed himself out of the frying panne fayre into the fyre.' It is a little grim to recall that Tyndale was publicly strangled and burned as a heretic in 1536, but that More was not alive to rejoice, for he, a year earlier, had been hung, through perjured testimony, as a traitor because he would not approve the bigamous marriage of Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn."


You can always just say "It went from bad to worse," although that's not idiomatic.

  • 1
    I thought it was when I wrote it in my answer ;)
    – mplungjan
    Jun 29, 2011 at 7:56

One of my favourite Aussie sayings is:

up shit creek without a paddle.

This idiom is used in reference to a person who is in a bad situation that is likely to get worse, and in which there appears to be little or no hope of a way out.

If you are more interested in placing emphasis on the steadily worsening nature of a situation, another way to put it is to say that you are:

digging yourself into a hole.


Between the devil and deep blue sea.

  • Transition I would say
    – mplungjan
    Jun 29, 2011 at 7:56

... someone trying to get out of a bad situation but after much effort, the situation only got worse


pouring gasoline on the fire

This phrase implies that the effort itself (the gasoline) is making the problem (the fire) worse, not just leaving one situation and hopping into second bad situation.

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