My customer is asking me to make a presentation/road map for completing a target at the same time he is refusing (perhaps by ignorance or misunderstanding) to allow me to discuss one of the key prerequisites that must be available to me for completing the target.

Which is the best proverb to explain this?

  • An old saying comes to mind: "you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink". I don't think it applies, though.
    – Centaurus
    Dec 20, 2017 at 0:31
  • Sorry, Jacob… while I sympathise with everyone whose clients have two or more mutually exclusive demands, that doesn't mean any proverb comes close to explaining anything… Your general situation sounds awful but specifically, what is your client talking about, please? Dec 20, 2017 at 18:56

2 Answers 2


You can't make bricks without straw.

He is asking you to "make bricks without straw," an almost impossible task. The saying comes from the Bible (Exodus chapter 5), where Pharaoh required the Israelites to do exactly that:

That same day Pharaoh gave this order to the slave drivers and overseers in charge of the people: “You are no longer to supply the people with straw for making bricks; let them go and gather their own straw. But require them to make the same number of bricks as before; don’t reduce the quota. They are lazy; that is why they are crying out, ‘Let us go and sacrifice to our God.’ Make the work harder for the people so that they keep working and pay no attention to lies.” Then the slave drivers and the overseers went out and said to the people, “This is what Pharaoh says: ‘I will not give you any more straw. Go and get your own straw wherever you can find it, but your work will not be reduced at all.’”

Exodus, 5:9-11 (New International Version)

You can't make bricks without straw. [UK saying]

Used to say that you cannot make something without the necessary materials.

Cambridge Dictionary

See also:

Wikipedia: Bricks without straw


How about "(have/with) my hands tied behind my back"? or "handicapping (me)"?

  • That looks like the start of a good answer. Have a look at Mick's answer to see how good answers provide explanation, definitions, links, and citations so that readers can form an opinion on whether your answer works.
    – Lawrence
    Jan 19, 2018 at 6:36
  • Just curious--and would like to do things right: I've seen so many questions flagged and put on hold b/c the questioner didn't do their research. Now, shouldn't the same apply to people getting the answers? Of course, I can see a situation where people disagree on an answer, in which case citations are needed to settle it.
    – YLearn
    Jan 19, 2018 at 16:29
  • Not to dismiss the importance of citations and examples, but, if an answer isn't on target, what good do citations and examples do?
    – YLearn
    Jan 19, 2018 at 16:30
  • Answers do get flagged for content, or lack thereof. In the SE system, answers aren't put on hold - they are either down-voted as not useful or, if they don't answer the question, they can be deleted via a community process or by a moderator. You're right - citations and examples etc don't help an answer that isn't on target. But yours is on target and would benefit from the extra material.
    – Lawrence
    Jan 19, 2018 at 23:25

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