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What is an idiom (or a proverb) used in situations where a person calls upon another person to carry out an order (mostly of a non-official or non-enforcing type), which the second person tries to stall carrying out (could be any reason but usually it's sloth), until someone, or something (usually in the nature of an act of nature), supervenes and deflects the onus of carrying out the order from the second person —that is, the second person, much to his or her delight, is naturally exempted from carrying out the order?

The expression (idiom) I am looking for is uttered by the first person in the question, often sarcastically or humorously, to remark on the fortuitous (for the second person) turn of events coming to the "aid" of the second person. The sought expression might carry an undertone of mild disapproval as well.

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  • Are you looking for “He’s really dragging his feet
    – Jim
    Dec 12, 2020 at 8:04
  • @Jim— No, I'm afraid.
    – user405662
    Dec 12, 2020 at 8:28
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    I’m confused as to whether the phrase you are seeking should describe the lethargic inactivity, or the reprieve provided by the supervening event?
    – pbasdf
    Dec 12, 2020 at 8:35
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    The Wally Period. dilbert.com/strip/2002-02-27
    – Pete
    Dec 12, 2020 at 13:31
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    Your first paragraph is all one sentence. Perhaps some copy editing? Dec 12, 2020 at 18:02

9 Answers 9

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I’m confused as to whether the phrase you are seeking should describe the lethargic inactivity, or the reprieve provided by the supervening event? – pbasdf

@pbasdf— The latter – user405662

How about saved by the bell?

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A fancy term for this is deus ex machina

... a seemingly unsolvable problem in a story is suddenly and abruptly resolved by an unexpected and unlikely occurrence Wikipedia

Also

"you got lucky"

"that was a (lucky) fluke"

"you had a lucky break"

"that was an unwarranted success"

"luck was on his side"

"he lives a charmed life"

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  • Thanks a lot, @Chasly-supports Monica. Definitely a good answer!
    – user405662
    Dec 12, 2020 at 13:58
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    @user405662 I've added a few more, there must be dozens of them. I'm slightly worried now that we perhaps aren't allowed to give lists. I get confused between different forums that I'm on! Dec 12, 2020 at 14:01
  • Many thanks for your help, @Chasly! Appreciate your help! :)
    – user405662
    Dec 12, 2020 at 14:04
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Person 1 to Person 2: "Well, it's OBE now."

OBE = Overcome by events.

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    As a fairly well-traveled US English speaker, I have never heard this expressed as an acronym. I would not understand "Well, it's OBE now" if someone were to say that to me. I would, of course, understand "overcome by events", but only from its literal meaning. It is not an idiomatic phrase.
    – Cody Gray
    Dec 13, 2020 at 9:38
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    @CodyGray It's said to be of military origin, so it would be idiomatic in that context. It has been imported into my professional community, so I've seen or heard it (or the variant overtaken by events) often, both sounded out and as an acronym.
    – David K
    Dec 13, 2020 at 15:49
  • References would help. Maybe enacademic.com/dic.nsf/enwiki/1976377 or business2community.com/strategy/…. Also the related phrase overtaken by events, merriam-webster.com/dictionary/overtaken%20by%20events
    – David K
    Dec 13, 2020 at 15:53
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    @CodyGray It is very common in US Government circles, especially the military. It is almost always used as an acronym in this context.
    – Scooter
    Dec 13, 2020 at 16:58
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Person 1 to Person 2: “Person 3 got you off the hook.

Or ... “Well, guess you’re off the hook now.

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"How convenient." is often used for conveying the described sentiment in a sarcastic manner.

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OK, you are making heavy weather of this question; I’ll bail you out.

  1. To pay for someone's release from jail. A person's name or a pronoun can be used between "bail" and "out." I have to go bail out my brother—the police picked him up again, and he's down at the precinct. Bailing my son out from jail was the low point of the year.

By extension, to get someone out of trouble or help them with a problem. A person's name or a pronoun can be used between "bail" and "out."

Free Dictionary

The analogy also works for bailing out in the sense of keeping a boat afloat in rough weather by bailing (removing) the water from it.

If the second person is relieved of the duty of completion by circumstance rather than by the first person, it may be said to be ”by happy chance”. This has overtones of “you should have done it, you haven’t done it, I don’t approve but, as luck has it, all is well”.

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  • Thank you, @Anton. But I have to say that I doubt if this phrase encapsulates the essence of my question. I have slightly edited the question. Do check it please if it interests you.
    – user405662
    Dec 12, 2020 at 9:31
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    A neat challenge. I have edited to try to add something more tightly tied to your question. Thanks
    – Anton
    Dec 12, 2020 at 9:55
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The person intervening pulls the responsible person's chestnuts out of the fire.

chestnuts out of the fire, pull someone's

Succeed in a hazardous undertaking for someone else's benefit, with reference to the fable of a monkey using a cat's paw to extract roasting chestnuts from a fire.

[Oxford Reference]

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  • I have put in back the bit that sloth on part of the person ordered is the predominant factor in their not obliging (if it is of any significance to you).
    – user405662
    Dec 12, 2020 at 18:38
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    'Saved by the bell' certainly 'borders on the extreme' and has an added explicit time urgency. Yet 'It definitely comes the closest, among the given answers, to what I am looking for.' I can't understand your thinking. Dec 12, 2020 at 19:12
  • You are right. I am muddling things unnecessarily here. Perhaps, saved by the bell struck me as a bit humorous and that is probably why I marked it. 'The hazardous undertaking' part in the definition of your idiom I see as not falling in line with the intent of the question; saved by the bell might not be the most appropriate idiom here, but like I said, it struck me as a bit humorous. I may be wrong on this count because I haven't encountered it often enough earlier.
    – user405662
    Dec 13, 2020 at 6:40
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"by a stroke of luck" works here.

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"Force majeure" is one term that applies to the supervening act, perhaps referring to something so much larger as to wipe out all traces of the course of action (or inaction).

It can save ... or destroy. The sea, washing away your house, makes fixing the leaky gutters unnecessary.

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