Is there some kind of phrase or expression that describes the blame assigned to the last person to touch a machine or system when it goes wrong?

I think this probably comes from a precentury saying.

For example, my father used to place blame for a television's malfunction based on the last member of the family to turn it on and change channels. He always bought used stuff, and spent a lot of time smacking it upside when it could not tune in properly. (this comes from predigital technology). Of course, any teckie will tell you that smacking a TV indicates a bad solder connection in a cap or resistor. When it later turned out he was the last person to turn off the TV, why then he just tried to divert the blame to the other last person to touch it.

Another example:

Suppose that a programmer is asked to write a subroutine and it does not work in the main. The program worked before, but with the sub it crashes. The boss blames the writer of the sub, and refuses to entertain the notion that just perhaps there is another issue with their call. It becomes the fault of the sub writer.

I have seen it used politically when an outgoing administration unerringly blames the incoming one for any failures of the economy within a scant few months, but is quick to claim credit for any positive change thereafter.

In other examples, I have seen "shifting the blame", but would prefer something more idiomatic.

I am thinking there was a phrase from before the turn of the century, but if there is a more descriptive term from this century I will certainly consider it.

  • I can think of some words/phrases related to blaming, like "scapegoat", but not one specifically for this idea.
    – Barmar
    Commented Mar 31, 2021 at 20:44
  • 1
    "You touched it last!" is a common saying among children and childish adults, and found in memes these days; it is used in the context of things breaking but also e.g. to situations where whoever touched something last has to put it away. (You'll have to excuse me for not linking to horrible meme sites that are probably going to download all kinds of horrors onto your computer/phone.)
    – Stuart F
    Commented Mar 31, 2021 at 22:17
  • 2
    You got your cooties on the TV, and that's why it's broken!!
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Mar 31, 2021 at 23:01
  • I'd say Tag, you're It. Commented May 10, 2021 at 21:14

1 Answer 1


“She was fine when she left here.”

To those who dare to point out to the people of Belfast that the Titanic was a ship that sank and little more, there is a standard refrain:

“She was fine when she left here.”

Eamonn Mallie

More on same line at the Time magazine article The Titanic: 'She Was Alright When She Left Here'

I know this phrase is the inverse of what the question asks but might be interesting, to say something like ...

The outgoing administration says the economy was in great shape when they left office, just like the Titanic was fine when it left the shipyard.*


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