24

In Turkish there is an idiom for this that says:

When the bride is going to wedding place, she says "let's see what happens"

This means people's choices can change at the very last moment and that this is normal.

Is there an English idiom for this?

  • 14
    When I was in college I worked for one summer at a warehouse that shipped packages of miscellaneous paper forms to customers across the country. Each customer order asked for different combinations of forms, so each box had to be packed by hand—and it was easy to accidentally omit one of the requested items. As a result, we had a system of triple-checking each outgoing package for accuracy and completeness before sealing it up. My supervisor adhered to a no-blame policy when it came to spotting errors late in the process—because, he said, "It isn't a mistake until it leaves the warehouse." – Sven Yargs Jun 8 '18 at 7:59
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    Not a good answer for English SE, but in South America there is a lovely expression: "Todo es posible, pero nada es seguro" – jkf Jun 9 '18 at 5:17
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    Italian: "only death is for sure". – Andrea Lazzarotto Jun 10 '18 at 21:22
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    @AndreaLazzarotto your quote made me remember John Green's 'The only certainty in life is death, and taxes0' which IIRC he quoted from Benjamin Franklin which IIRC Benjamin again quoted(?) from someone else. – Keale Jun 11 '18 at 7:23

17 Answers 17

41

Just to cite a saying with another lady, you may say:

It's not over until the fat lady sings

  • used for saying that it is still possible for a situation to change, (also at the very last moment.)

(Cambridge Dictionary)

  • 21
    This kind of works, but it's worth noting that the possible changes usually have to do with luck or extreme effort, not a person changing their mind. – 1006a Jun 8 '18 at 13:55
  • Could you clarify the etimology? Why is a fat lady mentioned? – Andrea Lazzarotto Jun 10 '18 at 21:24
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    @AndreaLazzarotto I think it's a reference to a women singing at the end of an Opera, signalling its end. – Carcigenicate Jun 10 '18 at 22:32
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    With a/d/r to the Cambridge Dictionary, It's not over... is the more common phrasing by far. Meanwhile, Americans usually hear it Yogi Bear style as It ain't over till the fat lady sings... even if it's not written that way in the ngram corpus. – lly Jun 11 '18 at 5:05
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    As for the reference, it's supposed to be to the valkyrie Brunhilda in Wagner's Ring Cycle, although the earliest attestations being to Texan sports announcers makes it much more likely they had Bugs Bunny-in-drag in mind. – lly Jun 11 '18 at 5:11
32

Here are some common idioms that imply that people's choices can change at the very last moment:

Play it by ear

This implies that a decision will be made when it needs to be made, not before. It is often used to imply that the decision will be based on information that is not currently available, but may be available when the decision needs to be made. As in: “I understand,” said Mr. Hardy. “How much time do we have?” The sergeant looked doubtful. “Don't know. We'll play it by ear.” (from the Hardy Boys 27: The Secret of Skull Mountain By Franklin W. Dixon).

Not carved in stone

-or-

Not set in stone

This implies that a decision has been made, but may be changed. As in: Mind you, my decision is not set in stone. This idiom is used in other situations (such as rules, relationships customs, memories, schedules, etc.) The first use I could find where this phrase was used metaphorically is by Charles Dickens in Oliver Twist: But they had recognised him, and he them; and their look was as firmly impressed upon his memory as if it had been deeply carved in stone, and set before him from his birth.

Up in the air

This implies that the decision has not be made, even though the information that needs to be considered is available. This idiom can be used for decisions that may be difficult to make, or the person making the decision needs more time to think. As in: Do we vacation at the beach or the mountains this year? I am up in the air about this.. I can also mean that one is feeling, well, high, as this excerpt from the autobiography of Nat Love: ...I was feeling up in the air caused no doubt partly from the effects of love... right before he decides to try to lasso a steam locomotive.

25

This tautology is also common:

it ain't over till it's over (TFD)

The final outcome cannot be assumed or determined until a given situation, event, etc., is completely finished. Usually used in reference to organized competitions, such as sporting events, political elections, and the like.

Edit:

As noted in the comments, it's worth pointing out that this expression was coined by Yogi Berra, an American baseball player who was famous for his pearls of wisdom, a.k.a. "yogi-isms" (wiki).

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    It might be worth noting where this expression came from. It's etymology is as interesting as the tautology. – J.R. Jun 8 '18 at 21:18
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    This means that circumstances can change, but it doesn't quite have the same connotation about people being fickle. – mattdm Jun 9 '18 at 15:06
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    @mattdm It doesn't mean that people are fickle, with all the negative femininity that term can connote, but it does imply that you shouldn't ignore that they can change their minds (whether fickly or after thorough and well-considered soul-searching). Its popularity comes from its universality. – lly Jun 11 '18 at 5:21
  • @J.R. That's not its etymology, but what about the circumstances are interesting? That his team pulled it off after all? – lly Jun 11 '18 at 5:22
  • @Ily - When offering an idiom or phrase to use, I think it's helpful to point out if you're offering a phrase made famous by, say, Shakespeare or Dickens or the Psalms, as opposed to a witticism popularized by someone like Yogi Berra or Groucho Marx. On a site dedicated to serious language enthusiasts, why wouldn't you include such information? Especially when the OP might hail from Turkey and not be aware of how many will immediately associate this phrase with similar expressions, like, “It’s like déjà vu all over again.” – J.R. Jun 11 '18 at 10:06
20

Don't count your chickens before they're hatched

meaning:

Don't make plans based on future events that might not happen

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    Tangentially, Dutch uses "selling the bear's skin before it's shot". – Flater Jun 8 '18 at 10:53
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    @Flater just going further to east (Hungary), and you already get "don't drink on the bear's skin beforehand"... – Neinstein Jun 8 '18 at 13:43
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    This means that circumstances can change, but it doesn't quite have the same connotation about people being fickle. – mattdm Jun 9 '18 at 15:06
  • Italian: don't say "cat" until you have it in your bag. – Andrea Lazzarotto Jun 10 '18 at 21:25
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    @lly Er.... that's not a misunderstanding. That's my point. This is not an equivalent expression. – mattdm Jun 11 '18 at 9:02
14

English has several idioms about the possibility that the situation might change unexpectedly, but not many that focus specifically on people changing their already-made decisions. I think the closest analogue to your idiom may be

It's (a woman's) prerogative to change (her) mind.

Like the Turkish phrase, this likely originally referred specifically to decisions about marriage, since in common law an affianced man could be sued for breach of promise for backing out of the engagement, but betrothed women generally weren't similarly legally constrained. See Wikipedia for a discussion.

Nowadays, it's just used to mean that people can change their minds, and the phrase can change to suit the situation: "it's my prerogative to change my mind" or "it's a person's prerogative to change his/her/their/one's mind" and so forth. Some examples of the extended usage of the maxim:

To be sure, many of the government's more publicly successful ventures, free trade being a notable example, were surprising (and somewhat hypocritical) carry-overs . . . . Governments, after all, retain the prerogative to change their mind.
Dean Oliver, "Foreign affairs and national defence", Canadian Annual Review of politics and public affairs, 1994, ed. David Leyton-Brown

It is the referee's prerogative to change his mind provided the next shot hasn't been played, and the video playback seems to vindicate the referee's decision to review the shot.
Anonymous comment on "Williams Blasts Williams", Snooker Scene Blog, 11.9.11

If Google has taught us anything over the years, it's that it has the prerogative to change its mind about what ranks best in search results.
Amanda Pressner Kreuser, "This New Study Cracks Google's Algorithm for 2018 (Here's What's At the Top of the List)", Inc.com, Jan 30, 2018

12

A common idiom is We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.  Its meaning is fairly literal: we defer that decision until the moment when we need to act on it.  Reasons for saying this could include

  • The decision is technically difficult.  For example, we have to cross a river, and we can’t swim.
  • The decision is emotionally difficult.  For example, we expect to find a boat on the shore, but we expect that it will be too small to carry all of us, so we’ll need to leave somebody behind.  (Never mind the logistic possibility of making multiple trips.  Perhaps the river is passable in only one direction; perhaps time constraints prohibit multiple trips.)
  • When the time comes, we might not need to have a decision.  For example, the river level might have fallen to the point where we can walk across.  Or somebody might die before we get to the river, so we have a small enough company that we can all fit into the boat.
  • The time might not come at all.  For example, we might take another route and avoid the river altogether.
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    I've always been a fan of the mixed-metaphor version, "Let's burn that bridge after we cross it" – fluffy Jun 9 '18 at 4:33
8

To quote Richard Marx,

”It don't mean nothin’

‘Til you sign it on the dotted line.”

—Richard Marx, “Don’t Mean Nothing” (1987)

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    Richard Marx songs don't really count as idioms, do they? – lly Jun 11 '18 at 5:26
  • @lly I think it might, considering how popular the song became. However, given how long written contracts have existed, I am rather skeptical that the phrase actually originated with Richard Marx. ;-) – user302366 Jun 11 '18 at 19:50
7

I don't want to commit myself to an answer until I see which way the wind blows.

https://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/amp/english/way-direction-the-wind-blows

This often comes up when someone who is highly concerned about popular opinion wants to be on the side of an argument that has more supporters. (Politics, teenager social cliques, workplace technical arguments, etc.)

This is more deliberate than just being fickle-minded and prone to changing one"s mind lightly.

http://www.dictionary.com/browse/fickle-minded

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    My favorite "blended" idiom was a guy at work who persisted in saying "Let's run it up the flagpole and see which way the wind is blowing." (For those not familiar, it's a mashup of "see which way the wind is blowing" with "Let's run it up the flagpole and see who salutes.") – Cristobol Polychronopolis Jun 12 '18 at 13:42
5

The idiom that springs to mind is to turn on a dime.

While this is inherently American based on the currency (dime being 10 cents), I've heard it used here in Britain before as well.

"If something or someone turns on a dime, they suddenly change completely or do something completely different from what they were doing before. Employers need to be flexible and to turn on a dime in order to stay competitive. Note: The idea is of being able to change direction quickly and easily in a very small space, as if your foot were on a coin."

Collins COBUILD Idioms Dictionary, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2012

  • 1
    In British English, we might say "Turn on a sixpence, " although that tends to actually refer to a vehicle doing a physical / literal U-turn. – Stewart Jun 11 '18 at 0:17
  • In my opinion, "turn on a sixpence" doesn't really make as much sense as "turn on a dime" does. That may just be because I'm American though, British differences are not important to me. – Dev Jun 11 '18 at 16:38
  • @Dev in pre-decimal British currency a sixpence piece was the smallest silver coin (decimal equivalent 2.5p or about 3 US cents), similar in size to the dime (about 18mm diameter compared with 20mm). Of course there is no post-decimal "6 pence coin" but the current UK 5 pence coin is about the same size. – alephzero Jun 11 '18 at 21:33
  • @alephzero I'm not saying a sixpence isn't a coin. I'm saying that the phrase doesn't sound as good. – Dev Jun 12 '18 at 2:31
4

Among computer programmers, I have heard "late binding" used as a general metaphor (including in real life) for "decision can be made at the last moment". This term literally means:

Late Binding: type is unknown until the variable is exercised during run-time

EDIT: To back up that this metaphor has been used for human decisions, see here:

The firm believe it’s important to view procrastination from all perspectives, including the approach taken in computer science, commonly referred to as ‘Late Binding’. Late binding is the process of leaving decisions till as late as possible ...

Leaving decisions to the last minute can often open up a wide range of alternatives to businesses.

and here:

... Ozzie did not present the concept of late binding within the context of big data. In fact, the discussion in which the concept arose centered around competing social communication tools and at which point organizations should standardize on one product in that category. Ozzie’s recommendation: don’t bind too early.

In other words, don’t rush to commit. Play the field. Use lots of tools and see which works best, for the greatest number of business units, and then make a decision.

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    It's not that I don't plan ahead, I'm just implemented using lazy evaluation. – pipe Jun 8 '18 at 19:07
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    This is certainly not idiomatic. Most people would be befuddled by it. It's not even common among programmers to use this outside of a technical context in my experience. – jpmc26 Jun 8 '18 at 22:26
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    But it's clever, so I'm upvoting it anyway. – Beanluc Jun 8 '18 at 22:34
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    @jpmc26 It is certainly idiomatic in this sense. It's just an idiom confined to a rather small community. – lly Jun 11 '18 at 5:29
4

Others have already covered most of the 'just waaaaiit for iiiiit...' idioms that are most common in English right now. The idiom for precisely the occasion being mentioned in Turkish, though, is

cold feet

A bride 'with cold feet' or a groom who 'gets cold feet' may jilt their fiancé(e) and leave them waiting at the altar.

Per Slate, Ben Jonson calqued 'cold feet' from an Italian idiom (freddo ai piedi, 'cold in the feet') about running low on cash that showed up in discussions of desperate, hard-up traders & gamblers. Stephan Crane repopularized it 300 years later in Maggie: A Girl of the Streets, where it had its modern sense of lost ardor and whence it became college slang and an imprecation against those hesitant to feed the idiocy of the First World War.

Usually you'd caution against getting cold feet (don't change your opinion at the moment) or comfort someone that 'people get cold feet all the time.'


Edit: Oh, I see a couple are still missing.

Keep one's options open

to avoid committing oneself.

Mr. Callaghan... is understood to have reserved his decision—or, in the current jargon, ‘kept his options open’. (The Guardian, 14 May 1969)

.

Church ain't out till they quit singin'

or many, many variations.

(Southern US) It ain't over till the fat lady sings.

As long as the organ is playing, church is not out. (The Daily Picayune, 17 October 1872)

Church is never out till the people get through singing... (The Fort Worth Gazette, 17 August 1894)

Church isn’t over until the choir stops singing. Anything can happen. (The Baltimore Sun, 1976)

.

It ain't over yet.

(Southern US) It ain't over till it's over.

.

While there is life, there is hope

or, 'Where there is life, there is hope'.

Things can change.

It is said that, for the sick, while there is breath, there is hope. (Cicero, Letters to Atticus IX.x.3)

Were one only permitted to live, there would be hope. (P. Terentius Afer, The Self-Tormentor)

While there's life there is hope, and only the dead have none. (Theocritus, Idylls iv.42)

3

A phrase I’ve heard (on the U.S. east coast) is “we’ll make that decision in real time.”  This means pretty much the same thing as several of the other answers: we’ll make that decision at the moment when we need to act on it.  This would typically be used in a situation where we expect to have better information later than we do now.  For example:

Employee: Should I attend the entire conference?

Boss: Attend the first day and see whether you’re learning anything useful.  Then make the decision in real time.

3

Since the title of your question is ''Your decision can change at the last moment'' and your question mentions a wedding, it's worth mentioning:

I'm not married to this decision

which means that your are open to change.

2

Why not something as simple as…

“I’ll believe it when I see it.”

The initial part of the definition is nightly negative and states:

I highly doubt that could happen or is the case.

But the second, deeper part seems to fit the bill exactly:

The phrase implies that one would need to witness or see proof of such a thing to believe it.

1

Another one is that a decision can "change on a dime"

1

"game-time decision"

Usually used in sports when the coach or players are not sure about a particular strategy, and want to prolong the decision until the last possible moment (game-time).

But can be used in other settings as well.

For example:

person1: "Where do you wanna eat before the concert tomorrow?"
person2: "Game-time decision?"
person1: "Sure, I guess we don't have to decide right now."
0

to add a little more

ODD alternatives, that FLIP the concept:

  • with good intention

  • in good faith

  • with intent to

this is Strange, because by adding a positive that brings the parties attitude into play, it actually leaves room for doubt !

  • The two are meeting tomorrow to sign the document

vs

  • The two are meeting tomorrow in good faith to sign the document.

  • The two came to the meeting tomorrow with the intent of signing the document.

I am just adding these as I'm not sure exactly what the cultural meaning of the OP idiom means. As it is translated it seems very callous and almost with very little desire .. a step short well short of "we never know what fate might produce tomorrow" or something ?

  • Those aren't idioms. The implication you're noticing (true of your example using 'with intent to' but not the one using 'in good faith') is just an effect of focus. There is no reason to mention the intent of a past action unless that intent was altered or failed to be borne out. – lly Jun 11 '18 at 5:33
  • There's no similar effect of focus looking forward. That they will meet 'in good faith' just describes current expectations and intensifies that the meeting should go well. – lly Jun 11 '18 at 5:34
  • @Ily I disagree .. "meeting to sign the document and it should go well" is less certain than "meeting to sign the document" . When you give a "should" you disclose there might be a few things left to discuss when without it I think it contains no warning of failure – Tom22 Jun 11 '18 at 13:51
  • @Ily however, as I mentioned, I am not sure this is what the idiom means , and as an "answer" I was careful to qualify it not as an "answer entirely" but worth consideration as an approach to say "generally good but uncertain outlook" "room for doubt" was what I said. If an answer adds, it shouldn't be a top answer but it is better than a short comment IMO .. I didn't claim this was a synonym – Tom22 Jun 11 '18 at 13:55
  • @Ily To make it fit here better . You meet a young person who tells you "We are meeting to exchange our wedding vows tomorrow." If they added "It should go well" I think that would be a laugh line - similar perhaps to the OP . Like "should go well ?, you're having a wedding ceremony you planned for months with the entire families showing up and 'should go well" is all the faith you can muster?" – Tom22 Jun 11 '18 at 14:01

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