In Polish, there's an idiom, "z armatą na wróble" - translating directly "with a howitzer, against sparrows". It applies as criticism of using an unreasonably powerful, heavyweight, expensive, or otherwise "oversized" solution to solve a small problem. Say, using a flame-thrower with napalm to kill a spider, or calling SWAT on a school kid who drew a pistol in a notebook.

"Overkill" is a close expression but not exactly implying the scale - using AK-47 against wild turkeys is overkill. Using a howitzer against sparrows though?

Is there an idiom or other expression to imply something is not just an overkill, but one unambiguously disproportionate?

  • 3
    "Using a sledgehammer to crack a nut" means that it's disproportionate and unlikely to achieve the actual desired result (the nutshell cracked but the nut itself not crushed to powder). Apr 18, 2017 at 16:07
  • Related: english.stackexchange.com/q/289167/18655
    – JLG
    Apr 18, 2017 at 16:23
  • "using a howitzer to ..." is well established in the US. Sometimes Americanized to "Using a bazooka to ..."
    – Phil Sweet
    Apr 18, 2017 at 16:30
  • 2
    While I like 'sledgehammer' there are many cases where it implies a careless disregard for what is already in place... that it might break other stuff in the process. Another idiom, that might work where sledgehammer doesn't is "calling up the national guard" ... (trying it in a sentence:)"We lost a few customers due to a few isolated packaging mistakes and next thing you know the boss is calling in the national guard, hiring an expensive outside contractor that will end up tripling our loaded packaging cost per unit when all is said and done."
    – Tom22
    Apr 18, 2017 at 18:13
  • Duplicate: english.stackexchange.com/questions/100218/… Apr 18, 2017 at 22:18

2 Answers 2


I've heard "that's like killing a fly with a sledgehammer" or "never use a cannon to kill a fly".

  • To grossly overreact to a minor error or mishap. CCL
  • 1
    I voted this up because I think it's the idiom that fits in most cases. That being said, it's most frequently used when scrapping something more than improving something, and/or implies to some degree that you might break something in the process.
    – Tom22
    Apr 18, 2017 at 18:08

Using a sledgehammer to crack a nut

is the idiom in British English.

See Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary on line:

If you use a sledgehammer to crack a nut, you use much more force than is needed:

“50 police officers to arrest two unarmed men is surely using a sledgehammer to crack a nut.”

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