There is an old saying in Persian that describes a situation in which:

  • Someone is going into too much (unnecessary) detail while doing something.

  • Someone does something with too much (unnecessary) obsession.

The literal translation of the saying is:

Putting the drill on poppy.

I should add, this idiom is used in a negative manner. That means if you use this idiom for a situation, then you're probably annoyed by it. For example if you say: John is putting the drill on poppy, it could never be a compliment, you mean it as a negative thing (because it's too much) and you're annoyed by it.

For instance, suppose your car has just been crashed and you're running low on money. So you go to the auto repair shop and you ask the mechanic to fix your car but you don't want him to go into too much detail; You want him to fix your car with minimal cost. Here is the conversation:

Mechanic: Do you want to repair your car?

You: Yes, but please don't put the drill on poppy.

I tried searching about the origin of this old idiom and why they used drill and poppy plant in it but couldn't find any useful information. I asked a few of my older friends and they didn't know either. I'm still looking for an explanation but I suspect it has something to do with harvesting poppy plant and maybe the amount of detail it takes to extract seeds from it (maybe with an instrument like drill).

Is there any equivalent English idiom/expression to imply this meaning?


In case the words in the literal translation are not clear, I'm going to add what they're referring to here:

  • Drill is referring to a tool with a rotating cutting tip, used for making holes. (From google translate)

  • Poppy is referring to a herbaceous plant with showy flowers, milky sap, and rounded seed capsules. Many poppies contain alkaloids and are a source of drugs such as morphine and codeine. (From google translate)

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    How interesting. What is the origin of the expression? Why drill? Why poppy?
    – WS2
    Commented Apr 10, 2016 at 11:01
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    "Gilding the lily" is an old metaphor, but still good. However, it doesn't quite fit the car repair scenario.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Apr 10, 2016 at 12:47
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    If you're harvesting opium from a poppy, you slit the bulb with a razor. The paste drips out slowly. Now imagine using a power drill instead...
    – user26732
    Commented Apr 10, 2016 at 14:41
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    @Sobhan, I suspect that 'drill' might better refer to the idea of the seed drill (still in common use) and planting. Poppies self-seed easily. Working a seed drill to plant poppies is useless work. In you original sentence John is wasting his time.
    – Icy
    Commented Apr 10, 2016 at 17:25
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    Maybe the meaning is "don't try cracking poppy seeds open, they're already very small"? Because this "putting a drill on poppy" looks just like a mix of words without any meaning to me. Commented Apr 10, 2016 at 17:42

7 Answers 7


In (British) English, a painlessly idiomatic usage would be

Mechanic: Do you want to repair your car?

You: Yes, but please don’t go overboard.

As thefreedictionary points out, ‘go overboard’ literally means falling out of a boat, but idiomatically one can also go overboard on a task: ‘to do too much; to be extravagant’.

That can mean a range of things, from taking a task in general more seriously than it could possibly merit, to polishing thousands of tiny details that no-one could possibly ever see.

In the case of your example, the not going overboard scenario would involve the mechanic simply fixing the essential problem efficiently, and stopping there.

John’s colleagues would understand each other perfectly if one of them were simply to say, ‘John is going overboard again.’ They might or might not try to stop him, but they would understand that John is expending unnecessary time and effort, as usual.

  • Thank you @Captain, can you say this as a positive thing? For example if you say "John goes oveboard on his job.", is that a compliment? Because the idiom in the question is only used in a negative situation.
    – Sobhan
    Commented Apr 10, 2016 at 11:30
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    'Going overboard' would never be a compliment. It always means unnecessarily overdoing things, but it could still be understanding. If you say that 'John goes overboard on his job,' it might be a straightforward criticism, or it could be you kind of sighing, shrugging and giving up, knowing that John just does things like that, and there is no stopping him. Commented Apr 10, 2016 at 11:37
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    @Sobhan: The positive version would be to go above and beyond, as in, "John always goes above and beyond in his job." meaning that John is an extremely diligent worker who doesn't just do the minimum necessary work or even the normal necessary work, he goes further (in a positive way). If your mechanic fixed the car, but also gave it a thorough wash and polish without expecting any extra payment or tip for it, that would be an example of going above and beyond. (This is frequently paired with "the call of duty," e.g., "To go above and beyond the call of duty.") Commented Apr 10, 2016 at 16:56
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    It would appear from examples given in the OED that to go overboard originates from the game of pontoon(blackjack). Going overboard was jargon for going bust i.e. going above 21. In other words be careful not to go too far, and go overboard.
    – WS2
    Commented Apr 10, 2016 at 17:38
  • @WS2 Splendid! Somehow I had become convinced, long ago, that it really was a simple overextension of falling off a boat (a bit like the British 'fill your boots', the US 'knock yourself out', or the Australian 'go for your life'). The pontoon connection is sort of undramatic, but also cheerfully subtle. Commented Apr 10, 2016 at 22:26

There is the idiom to take a sledgehammer to crack a nut; it seems more directly related than some to your original.


You are not understanding this saying in the target language. It really means to nitpick. It means poppy seed not the plant. The Farsi is مته به خشخاش نگذار.


Consider split hairs:

to argue about whether details that are not important are exactly correct
- 'She earns three time what I earn.'
- 'Actually, it's more like two and a half.'
- 'Oh stop splitting hairs!'

There's also the verb quibble, but it's not figurative.:

to argue or complain about small, unimportant things

Please note that the literal translation of split hairs works as an idiom in Farsi too, but it doesn't mean the same thing as the English idiom. In Farsi split hairs means something like have a discerning razor-sharp mind, and shows approval.


Don't fuss over it

fuss over

To handle or deal with something or someone in an overly attentive or nervous way: Don't fuss over every detail—just get the main idea across for now. The grandparents fussed over their new grandchild.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of Phrasal Verbs

Don't get carried away

Fig. to be overcome by emotion or enthusiasm (in one's thinking or actions). Calm down, Jane. Don't get carried away. Here, Bill. Take this money and go to the candy store, but don't get carried away.

McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs

I think 'getting carried away' tends to have the connotation that one has worked on something so hard or so long that it has become much more than was originally envisioned. WordReference Forum


I wouldn't make a meal of the issue


This has been addressed in this previous thread, in which the expression I am leaning towards is "anal-retentive". If something more poetic is desired, one uses "misses the forest for the trees".

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    Jack, the idiom mentioned in this question is only used in a negative situation. That means you can't use it as a compliment or a positive thing in any circumstances. That is different than the question you linked in my opinion.
    – Sobhan
    Commented Apr 10, 2016 at 10:24
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    "Missing the forest for the trees" seems entirely unrelated.
    – mattdm
    Commented Apr 10, 2016 at 15:58

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