I'm looking for a BrE or AmE saying that conveys the idea of the Italian saying "chiodo scaccia chiodo", that is "one nail drives out another". The only suggestion I could find is "one problem drives away another" which doesn't appear to be a common one.

Besides, the exact meaning of the Italian proverb is that an issue ( often a heart affair) can be best solved by another issue of similar nature. For instance:

If your girlfriend has left you for someone else and you are sad and depressed, the best solution to your problem is a new girlfriend ( who will help you forget the old one), or if you lose your job you'll best solve your problem by finding a new similar one, but a new job will not solve the "girlfriend" problem and viceversa.

What is the English idiomatic expression used in the examples cited above?

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    There is "on the rebound", for developing a romantic attachment shortly after a breakup. And "pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again" is both an idiomatic phrase and the lyrics of a song from, I'm guessing, the early 50s.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Feb 7, 2017 at 13:18
  • Can you be more explicit about 1) what the literal translation and 2) why accepted translations (at the link you gave 'one problem drives out another') aren't good enough? Otherwise we don't have enough to go on.
    – Mitch
    Commented Feb 7, 2017 at 13:18
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    @ Papa Poule: No, that would mean "to escape a problem only to run into a bigger one".
    – user218421
    Commented Feb 7, 2017 at 14:57
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    @peterG we have a literal translation of that one as well in Italian, however it's not really the same thing. "Chiodo scaccia chiodo" does not mean "feel positive because a good thing will probably happen", it means "dude, take action and find a new girlfriend now". :P Commented Feb 7, 2017 at 20:17
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    I hate to say it, but we do have "The best way to get over a man is to get under another," which I believe is attributed to Dorothy Parker. Commented Feb 8, 2017 at 14:37

6 Answers 6


My first thought was fight fire with fire, which is very similar in underlying meaning: like the original saying, it is a description of directly countering one thing with more of the same thing. However, it is virtually always used in the context of a direct conflict, as suggested by the linked definition from Cambridge Dictionaries. I can imagine it being used if your ex is dating someone else in order to make you jealous and someone is advising you to reciprocate, or if your former employer is actively bad-mouthing you to prospective new employers and you are being advised to describe the ex-employer's bad behavior. But I don't think those situations are quite what you have in mind.

So, a couple that I think come closer:

Get back on the horse (that bucked you)

To return to or resume an activity that one has previously failed at, had difficulty with, or which has previously caused one harm.

  • I know you're discouraged after getting fired, but you need to get back on the horse that bucked you and start looking for work.
  • I've been single for three years since my divorce, but now I think it's time to get back on the horse and start dating again.

(Farlex Dictionary of Idioms. In TheFreeDictionary.com)

This might be the closest in usage. As the dictionary's examples suggest, it is used in exactly the situations described. My only hesitation is that it doesn't exactly suggest that "getting back on the horse" by dating someone new or getting a new job will make you forget about the previous amour or position, but rather that if you don't "get back out there" right away that the situation will worsen in some way.

Hair of the dog that bit you

A remedy that contains a small amount of whatever caused the ailment:

  • “When Anne had a bad hangover, Paul offered her a Bloody Mary and said, ‘Have a little of the hair of the dog that bit you.’”

(The American Heritage® New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition. In Dictionary.com.)

This is a little closer in underlying meaning: whatever the problem is, a little bit more of the same thing will cure it. However, as the example sentence above suggests, its overwhelming usage now is for drinking more alcohol to combat a hangover. It is still occasionally used in other situations, however, as for example:

[Trent's fiancée recently left him, and his cousin has just twisted his arm to "escort" a woman to a week-long wedding.] "Hey, I'm sorry that it has to be a wedding. But maybe it'll be good for you. You know, a hair-of-the-dog kind of thing," she added with a wobbly smile. Hair of the dog. Huh. If that were the case, he was about to choke down one supersized Bernese mountain dog kind of milkshake over the next few weeks. (Jennifer Shirk, Wedding Date for Hire, 2015)

Note: I got called away in the middle of composing this (darn those real-life jobs) and I see that Prodikl has beat me to the punch with hair of the dog and bjmc with fight fire with fire. I'm going to leave the answer as-is at least for now, and up-vote the other answers.

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    +1, none of these are great options, but that's probably about the best anybody's going to find
    – DCShannon
    Commented Feb 8, 2017 at 0:57

like cures like

From the Latin, similia similibus curantur, “like cures like” seems to me the most appropriate. It's heard in homeopathy, but I don't see why it wouldn't work as a metaphor for a failed love relationship. When one romance dies, finding a new partner helps forget the old one, and provides that mojo to start a new relationship.

According to homeopathic understanding, that which a substance is capable of causing, it is also capable of curing.

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    That illustrates very well the meaning, but it is not an established idiom I guess.
    – user66974
    Commented Feb 7, 2017 at 14:19

You might consider "[to] fight fire with fire":

Respond to an attack by using a similar method as one's attacker.

I would say it carries a similar implication that the solution to your problem will be of the same nature as the problem itself.


The "hair of the dog [that bit you]" is an English idiom usually meaning that if you're hung over, the best cure is to have some more alcohol.

It's sometimes applied to other situations that are a good match for your original question.

  • In full it's "hair of the dog that bit you", though usually abbreviated as you have. Though I don't think it's the right one for this situation.
    – Separatrix
    Commented Feb 7, 2017 at 15:34
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    i don't think it applies to a hangover. It is generally related to a loss, of a loved person or something you need or are attached to.
    – user66974
    Commented Feb 7, 2017 at 15:35
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    @Josh it applies more to hangovers than to anything else Commented Feb 7, 2017 at 17:05
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    Indeed, I'd say I've only ever heard it in an alcohol-induced situation...
    – calum_b
    Commented Feb 7, 2017 at 17:21
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    To the degree that "the hair of the dog", without any other context, is used to mean "an alcoholic drink taken to alleviate a hangover".
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Feb 7, 2017 at 18:30

Literally: "One nail drives out another"

Here I found a fairly good translation as "One problem drives away another", but as far as I know that's not an English idiom, just a translation.

Josh is right on two accounts: he had already quoted it (and I missed it), and the translation above doesn't hint that the two problems should be of the same nature.

Thus let's give it another try and translate the saying as literally as possible, yet striving to stick to the original meaning: "It takes a nail to drive out a nail ".

The metaphor is still there and may somewhat blur the meaning, but that's true for most proverbs and idioms.

What do you think?

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    Be very careful if the problem is a hangover
    – user218421
    Commented Feb 7, 2017 at 14:32
  • yes I saw that "translation" and a I cite it in my question, but it is not correct.Here the meaning is that a similar issue is needed to solve the problematic one.
    – user66974
    Commented Feb 7, 2017 at 15:04
  • @Josh: then I would suggest "It takes a nail to drive away a nail", but unless it becomes popular the real meaning would stay somewhat concealed behind the metaphor.
    – user218421
    Commented Feb 7, 2017 at 15:13
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    @Chiron 'tail of the dog that bit you' is exactly the (purported) remedy for a hangover.
    – Mitch
    Commented Feb 7, 2017 at 15:14

"There are plenty of fish in the sea"

This is often used to mean a girlfriend is replaceable. It can also be used for other missed opportunities or loses that are expected to come again from other sources.

"Get back on the horse"

This is often used when something doesn't work and the person feels like quiting. It is a suggestion to try again and not dwell on the failure.

  • Does this count as a suggestion? One thing that may not be clear from the question is that "chiodo scaccia chiodo" is very often used to suggest one replaces an ex-girlfriend with a new one quickly. Commented Feb 7, 2017 at 20:19
  • "there are plenty of fish in the sea" is more a suggestion to forget the loss and move on. It is a comment with the assumption that the person is going to keep looking until a replacement is found. It does not imply quickly.
    – user219159
    Commented Feb 7, 2017 at 20:33
  • I see, but the point of "chiodo scaccia chiodo" is that in order to forget you need to find a new girlfriend. Not that I necessarily agree with that, but that's the meaning of this idiom. :) Commented Feb 7, 2017 at 21:08
  • I think "get back on the horse" may fit, and is sometimes used in that context. The implication being the person is probably going to mope until they try again.
    – user219159
    Commented Feb 7, 2017 at 21:27
  • I don't think "there are plenty of fish in the sea" is localized to relationships at all, though it can be used to describe them.
    – kettlecrab
    Commented Feb 8, 2017 at 6:41