I have two related words in my head, “flow” and “haemorrhage” (US hemorrhage), but I can't remember the exact phrase (or idiom) that fits perfectly.

It should suggest impeding or blocking the flow of something. It can be used literally but for my purposes, it's going to be used as a metaphor. I want to say

Our major concern should be _________ of Italian talent/intelligence/academia (etc.)

I feel there is a more idiomatic way of saying “stopping the haemorrhage”. Maybe the answer lies in migration?

  • Failing that, is there a striking idiom that evokes the dramatic situation of young and not-so-young talents abandoning their native country in search of “greener pastures” (i.e. seeking greater recognition/wealth/prospects)?
  • Maybe it's because I'm generally an optimist, but in your sentence, I would probably prefer focus on the expected positive outcome rather than fear of the negative. i.e. "Our major concern should be retention of Italian talent/intelligence/academia (etc.)" Commented Sep 27, 2018 at 18:47

5 Answers 5


Use stem. Often used to mean impede the flow. "Stem the flow", "Stem the tide".

Similar to Staunch, although I would consider staunch more old-fashioned - rightly or wrongly.

  • Yep. Please add a link from a dictionary in your answer, maybe also an example and the green tick will probably go to your answer.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Sep 25, 2018 at 12:54
  • @Mari-LouA you might also want to use the term brain drain in that context: stemming the brain drain.
    – terdon
    Commented Sep 25, 2018 at 15:14
  • 1
    Ah, yes! "Stem" works too. When I posted my answer it didn't come to me. I immediately thought of "staunch" because I'm more familiar with that term. Two recent articles,February and July 2018 respectively, use " stem the brain drain" African Union devises 10-year plan to stem brain drain and Obama urges Africa to do more to stem brain drain
    – bookmanu
    Commented Sep 25, 2018 at 18:04
  • 1
    This suggests a pun with the abbreviation STEM, given the context. Commented Sep 27, 2018 at 7:56
  • 1
    What sounds familiar to my ears is to staunch the flow but stem the tide.
    – shoover
    Commented Sep 27, 2018 at 17:04

Could you be thinking of staunch?

Stop or restrict (a flow of blood) from a wound.

  • ‘he staunched the blood with whatever came to hand’
  • figurative ‘the company did nothing to staunch the tide of rumours’

This study from Oxford Scholarship Online named Staunching the Flow - The Brain Drain and Health Professional Retention Strategies in South Africa

South Africa has experienced a major outflow of health professionals since the end of apartheid in 1994 and this brain drain has led to a significant decline in the quality of healthcare across the country’s health institutions. This chapter provides a critical assessment of South Africa’s health professional retention strategies and asks if these have led to any significant shifts in the emigration intentions of highly skilled health professionals (medical doctors and specialists, dentists and pharmacists). The chapter provides an overview of the scale of the brain drain from the country and the emigration intentions of those still there and in training. It then examines the various strategies that the government has adopted to staunch the flow.

The Telegraph published an article on 4 April 2017 - Saharan tribal chiefs pledge to stop flow of migrants heading for Europe via Libya

Tribal leaders in the Sahara have pledged to stop the flood of migrants trying to reach the Mediterranean coast of Libya, in return for aid and development from Europe.

Italy was the unwilling recipient of 181,000 migrants last year and has spearheaded efforts to halt the exodus of dinghies and boats leaving the Libyan coast.

In the latest initiative, around 60 chieftains from the southern deserts of Libya were brought together in Rome to thrash out a peace deal between warring tribes and find a way to staunch the human trafficking.

In terms of young and not-so-young talent abandoning their native country in search of “greener pastures”, this is informally referred to as "the brain drain"

The emigration of highly trained or qualified people from a particular country.

  • ‘a leading British team of chemists has joined the brain drain to the United States’

Five years ago Techcrunch published an article about the brain drain at HTC - HTC Can’t Stanch The Flow Of Departing Senior Talent As Internal Turmoil Prevails

US English spells the word as "stanch", probably to distinguish it from the other meaning of "staunch". According to Merriam-Webster

one of these words is more commonly used as an adjective, and the other one is more commonly used as a verb. Staunch is more often found as an adjective (it has several meanings in this role, including “watertight,” “substantial,” and “steadfast in loyalty or principle”). Stanch more often will be found used as a verb.

Some people will tell you that you should always keep these words apart, and if you’d like to do this you may find the following sentence of some assistance in helping you to remember the difference: “A staunch friend would help me stanch my bleeding leg, and not spend all his time guzzling cocktails.”

Columbia Journalism Review discusses these differences further, however, they do say

The granddaddy of dictionaries, The Oxford English Dictionary, simply lists “staunch” and “stanch” in a single entry, reflecting common British usage of either spelling as noun and verb.

Grammarist, Grammarphobia, Daily Writing Tips,antimoon, Analytical Grammar/Grammar Planet, and Professor Paul Brains from Washington State University on his blog brains.wsu.edu also weigh in on the "stanch vs staunch" debate.

An article published on MSN yesterday contains the "staunch the braindrain" phrase in the url

https://www.msn.com/zh-hk/news/other/taiwan-may-expand-citizenship-to-southeast-asia-to-staunch-brain-drain-to-the-mainland/ar-AAAyElu however the aricle itself omits the phrase - Taiwan mulls opening citizenship door to Southeast Asia to cope with cross-strait brain drain

Tom Post in a Forbes article - The Great American Brain Drain: Why 24 Million People Quit Their Jobs Every Year wrote

Two million Americans give notice every month. What pushes them to do so -- and what can employers do to staunch the talent drain?

An article in The Chronicle of Higher Education covers the topic

India's Brightest Technology Graduates Begin to Stanch the Brain Drain

An article from The Institute for Research on Public policy entitled The Brain Drain: Myth and Reality? refers to

staunch the outflow

The American Management Association in an article discussing "Dealing with America’s Alarming "Reverse Brain Drain" says

America has two choices—either cultivate its homegrown talent or staunch the exodus of repatriates.

Revered publications such as The Lancet (an independent, international weekly general medical journal founded in 1823 by Thomas Wakley) and Politico, among others, mention "plugging the brain drain" respectively.

National strategies wanted to plug the brain drain

Baltics struggle to plug brain drain

Note that

Hemostasis the natural process that stops blood loss when an injury occurs, involves three steps: (1) vascular spasm ( vasoconstriction ); (2) platelet plug formation; and (3) coagulation.

platelet plug formation involves the activation, aggregation, and adherence of platelets into a plug that serves as a barrier against blood flow.


  • 7
    Also stanch.
    – 1006a
    Commented Sep 25, 2018 at 14:18
  • I would say stanch rather than staunch for this meaning (yes, I know both are correct, but I think this is preferred).
    – MPW
    Commented Sep 26, 2018 at 17:23
  • 1
    @MPW Yes, in British English "staunch" is more frequent by far, see Google Ngrams, admittedly in US English the difference is negligible.
    – bookmanu
    Commented Sep 26, 2018 at 17:49

Stop the hemorrhaging is idiomatic.


the loss of assets, especially in large amounts.

any widespread or uncontrolled loss or diffusion.


  • 3
    Note using 'hemorrhage' like this would be considered fairly dramatic and dire in English. To many it would invoke imagery of physiological hemorrhages (i.e., vital organs bleeding). This could be exactly the sort of imagery you intend to convey though, it is almost poetic in the context of a national brain drain. Commented Sep 25, 2018 at 22:45
  • 1
    @holocronweaver in most cases I've heard it, it refers to hemorrhaging in an economic sense. Not enough money coming in, or too much going out. To me, that is the image that comes to mind. Commented Sep 26, 2018 at 15:49

Stop the bleeding is a common idiom.

Stop the bleeding

To prevent further damage, loss, negative effects, etc., during a problematic situation. Likened to literally stopping blood loss during an injury.

  • If we don't stop the bleeding now, the company might be in jeopardy of collapsing.
  • We don't have time to figure out a long-term solution. For now, we just have to stop the bleeding.

This Google NGram compares the frequency of this idiom to some of the other suggestions here. As you can see, only "stem the tide" is more common, and it has slightly different connotations. ("Tide" is both less negative and more inevitable than "bleeding".)

For an idiom that is more specific to your example (talented people fleeing a sphere of work or study), you could use stop the brain drain instead.

brain drain

noun: the departure of educated or professional people from one country, economic sector, or field for another usually for better pay or living conditions

  • Nothing has been done to stop the brain drain as more and more doctors move away from the area.
  • +1 for suggesting brain drain Commented Sep 27, 2018 at 13:16

I've heard stymie used to describe preventing a loss of somthing that is flowing out, often when refering to wounds.

verb (used with object), sty·mied, sty·mie·ing. to hinder, block, or thwart.
Both America's and Iran's regional clients are now openly attempting to stymie the process of rapprochement.

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