14

Normally there is a idiom "throw a cat among pigeons" but what is being inquired here is "throwing a pigeon among cats" where cats are predator and pigeon is the prey and pigeon is trapped between the predator cats who are out to get at the drop of a hat.

Typically, an example of this would be a employee (the pigeon) working for more than 1 tyrant boss (predator) ideally for more than 4-5 toxic tyrant bosses (predators) helicoptering you, ripping you off of your negligible mistake, etc..

PS: Basically the boss here can be empty suit freeloaders

  • sitting duck - a person or thing with no protection against an attack or other source of danger. – tblue Oct 13 at 19:18
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    Please see this helpful distinction between "Fish in a barrel" and "sitting ducks." english.stackexchange.com/a/103347/3306 – rajah9 Oct 13 at 20:06
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    The duck is unaware until someone fires the first shot. Then, not so much. – tblue Oct 14 at 0:42
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    To be in the crosshairs - "be the object of intense observation or scrutiny, usually as a result of some wrongdoing or unpopular opinion, etc., or to be in a position to be attacked or criticized." - "singled out for blame, harassment, or other unwanted attention" – tblue Oct 14 at 0:43
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    The answer is simply "throw to the lions" or "... wolves" – Fattie Oct 14 at 20:48
69

If someone is sacrificing the employee in order to satisfy the other tyrant bosses, then perhaps

Throw someone to the wolves

Fig. to sacrifice someone to save the rest; to abandon someone to harm. (Fig. on the image of giving one person to the wolves to eat so the rest can get away.)

The Free Dictionary

42

Probably:

Throw to the lions:

Figuratively, to be thrown to the lions is to be placed in a difficult situation for which one is completely unprepared: “To put that new teacher in front of those unruly students is to throw her to the lions.”

Origin:

During Roman persecutions Christians were thrown to the lions in the Colosseum.

(Dictionary.com)

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    @KalleMP - not really, the origin is different and much less entertaining. See the link in my answer. – user067531 Oct 14 at 10:38
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    Sorry, I am misunderstanding something. Throwing the disbelievers to be eaten by lions on a circus day was intended to be entertainment. Your link does not offer any other origin or I did not find it. – KalleMP Oct 14 at 11:17
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    @KalleMP The saying is much older than the Romans. See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daniel_in_the_lions%27_den (or read the original Bible story, the Book of Daniel chapter 6). – alephzero Oct 14 at 11:38
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    @alephzero +1 That certainly pre-dates Christian persecution by the Romans. However used as a expression Thrown into the lions den might describe trial then deliverance by personal fortitude while Thrown to the lions might mean ruin while an object of entertainment. I think they could be classified with two different meanings, maybe, perhaps. Though the Daniel event was likely also intended to be entertaining to his detractors. – KalleMP Oct 14 at 13:12
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    @alephzero - though it was considered a form of “entertainment” the meaning has changed with time. Nowadays is you through someone to the lions it is not for fun. – user067531 Oct 14 at 13:15
16

The more modern version of this sentiment is

to throw someone under the bus.

As The Free Dictionary notes, it means

  1. To exploit someone's trust for one's own purpose, gain, or agenda; to harm someone through deceit or treachery.
    Senator Davis was supposed to be working with me to bridge the gap between Democrats and Republicans on the issue of gun control, but, instead, she threw me under the bus to get a boost in the polls with her constituency.
    The investment company threw its clients under the bus when it chose to redirect their hard earned money into various Ponzi schemes that benefited only a few board members at the top.
  2. To avoid blame, trouble, or criticism by allowing someone else to take responsibility.
    Tommy was caught with the marijuana in his backpack, but he threw me under the bus and said it belonged to me.
    Our manager never hesitates to throw an underling under the bus when something goes wrong in the office.

That last example seems like it would go very well with your description.

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    I think the idiom OP is after is to do with multiple problems, not a single one. And yes, I do know buses sometimes come in threes. – Pureferret Oct 14 at 10:55
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    In my experience, as well as in the definitions quoted above, "to throw someone under the bus" does not include any significant connotation of putting someone in the (figurative) situation of prey among predators, which was the OP's question. – LarsH Oct 15 at 15:51
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    @LarsH: agreed. In the OP's hypothetical case, one of those bosses likely will throw you under the bus after a minor mistake (or even if you're innocent), if there is any blame they can shift your way. But that's a specific-incident thing, not the general situation. – Peter Cordes Oct 15 at 22:29
  • That is an American idiom, not really used in British English. Not saying it's wrong: just something to be aware of if the OP has a particular audience. – Chris Melville Oct 16 at 10:47
3

If you wish to escape the same idiomatic throwing a prey to a predator:

Walking (or Forced to walk) through a minefield.

Where any misstep would obviously result in your death (scolding, criticism, demotion, etc).

Sally's new project was like walking through a minefield. Everywhere she turned, someone was waiting to revel in her mistakes.

This might not be the exact situation you're referring to, but frequently in these situations:

You're damned if you do and damned if you don't.

Meaning that you're in a dilemma that cannot be solved easily. Whatever you do will displease one person while pleasing the other.

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    Walk a minefield, good one. There's also "run the gauntlet:" – Fattie Oct 14 at 20:50
1

As a (wryly or darkly) humorous description of the situation, a pigeon among the cats would work just fine, and would be understood as an inversion of the common phrase:

Man, working for those guys was the worst job I ever had. You could say they really set a pigeon among the cats when they placed me there!

A web search shows that A Pigeon among the Cats has been used as the title of a crime novel and a volume of poetry.

0

There is also Throwing firecrackers

This can be combined with various settings

Throwing firecrackers in church Throwing firecrackers off an overpass Throwing firecrackers in the toilet

etc.

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    I'm not sure how throwing firecrackers corresponds to the concept of throwing a pigeon among cats. – KillingTime Oct 15 at 13:35
  • 'Throwing firecrackers in the toilet'? That's a damp squib, surely. Not an answer to the question. – Tim Oct 16 at 15:50
  • I haven't heard this as an expression really. It's more an actual event. – marcellothearcane Oct 20 at 8:40
0

If predators (toxic bosses, etc.) are waiting to swoop in, you could say that the vultures are circling:

If the vultures are circling, then something is in danger and its enemies are getting ready for the kill.

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    No, vultures are carrion eaters. If vultures are circling, they're waiting for a sick animal to die on its own, then eat the corpse. As an English idiom, the metaphor is definitely not about enemies, but about something or someone that's going to fail on their own. (The people / companies circling tend to be ones that might pick up some of the pieces. e.g. creditors waiting to repossess a car and/or property if a person or company is falling behind on payments) – Peter Cordes Oct 15 at 22:24
  • @PeterCordes - vultures are quite happy to eat any carrion, regardless of how it met its end. Anything left after the killer has finished eating is fair game, so to speak. And probably tastier and more wholesome than eating a possibly diseased animal. – Tim Oct 16 at 15:48
  • @Tim: sure, so vultures might circle an animal being stalked by predators. But I think most desert predators are ambush predators (I think) so vultures wouldn't know ahead of time and be circling, right? Not like hyenas running down their prey until it's exhausted and can't stay ahead. But that's biology; as an English idiom my understanding of the meaning has no implication of that. Sharks circling is I think an idiom I've heard, and that has a very strong connotation of predators surrounding and waiting for a moment to attack. (Thanks for making me think of it; perfect idiom here) – Peter Cordes Oct 16 at 15:55
  • @PeterCordes - actually, that's a much better idiom., considering the question. Vultures don't kill, sharks do. So this answer's not too good. – Tim Oct 16 at 15:58
  • @Tim: posted it as an answer – Peter Cordes Oct 16 at 16:04
0

The sharks are circling

If the sharks are circling, then something is in danger and its enemies are getting ready for the kill.

UsingEnglish.com

This fits very well for the situation of having multiple bosses waiting to tear you apart the moment they see an opportunity to strike.

(Unlike vultures circling, which means waiting for something to die / fail on its own so carrion eaters can feast on the corpse. e.g. creditors waiting to repossess property from a company struggling to keep up with payments, and people waiting to rehire any valuable employees. Vultures circling as an idiom has no implication of predators surrounding the thing that's in trouble.)


This doesn't fit the sense of being placed into this situation, though. Throwing someone to the wolves is a better fit for that, as @rajah9's answer points out.

But once in this situation, you might say "The situation at work feels like sharks are circling". (Although that sounds kind of clumsy and isn't the best example of usage. edits welcome with a better example.)

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