To specify my request, I should say that I mean something I can use in a normal conversation, but not in the academic field.

There's such an expression in the Russian language, which sounds like "volshebniy pendel". volshebniy means 'magic,' and pendel means 'a kick in the ass.' So, it's for situations when you are procrastinating and really need this kick/push/nudge to start doing something.

This might be anything: a line in the book, a phrase in the tv show, a call from your friend, a boss's text, and so on.

Is there any similar expression in English?


11 Answers 11


Light a fire under someone (per Cambridge):

light a fire under someone


mainly US

to make someone act quickly or forcefully, especially someone who has not been doing enough before

  • 1
    Colloquially... You're generally lighting the fire under their arse specifically Commented Mar 1, 2023 at 14:04

Wake-up call: This implies that the person is taking things too easily and needs to wake up and get moving. It is less offensive than mentions of kicking someone's rear but still implies an urgent prompt to get going.

Kick in the pants: This is slightly more polite than "kick in the ass"

Kick up the backside: This AFAIK is only used in British English. It is more polite than "kick up the arse" (also British English). In general the word "arse" in BrE, although meaning the same thing, is used less and considered much more coarse than the US "ass".

wake-up call A portentous event, report, or situation that brings an issue to immediate attention. For example, The rise in unemployment has given a wake-up call to state governments, or The success of the online subscription is a wake-up call to publishers. This metaphoric term originated in the second half of the 1900s for a telephone call arranged in advance to awaken a sleeper, especially in a hotel. Its figurative use dates from about 1990. https://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/wake-up+call


“Kick in the ass” is actually a phrase that I might use (native speaker of Canadian English). Sorry, I haven’t found any references (yet).

but I might use it as follows “my boss gave me a kick in the ass that got me started on the project that I was procrastinating about, and it turned out to be easier than I thought“.

Or “getting out of breath when I ran up the stairs was a kick in the ass that got me serious about exercising”

However, a “kick in the ass” can be both positive and negative, as so many things are in English. Most of the definitions that I have found emphasize the negative aspects, like “my boss threatened to fire me, which was a kick in the ass“. But that in itself might inspire you to start working harder. Tough love.

Also not to be confused with “kick ass“ or “kick butt”.


Less colloquially, you already mentioned “push”. E.g. “my wife pushed me to start the project of cleaning out the garage”..

More: “trigger”, “prompt”.

“nagged” as you “my wife magged me until I started working on the project”


IMHO terms like “boost” are not necessarily a thing that start you on a project, although they might help you along the way.


More figurative:

“Pushed me off the cliff” or “pushed me into the water”

E.g. “my friend pushed me off the cliff into the ocean, where it was sink or swim. Fortunately I swam… and that’s how I got started on my career.”


Riffing off one of the other answers “I lit a fire under his ass, and he finally started working on the project”.

  • You might like to add Farlex to your resources. Aside: in UK an ass is a donkey or a fool. Commented Feb 26, 2023 at 19:45
  • "A kick" may be used even if it is not directed to someone's posterior.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Feb 27, 2023 at 3:44
  • I've also heard the term "Kick in the pants". As in "I didn't like what she said, but it gave me the kick in the pants I needed to get started" Commented Feb 27, 2023 at 15:18

So, it's for situations when you are procrastinating and really need this kick/push/nudge to start doing something.

Why don't you just use nudge, just as Richard H. Thaler, and Cass R. Sunstein did in their book Nudge?

It can be either a noun (as you've used) or a verb, as defined in Merriam-Webster as follows:

2 :to prod lightly: urge into action
… have been nudged into starting their own ventures …
—Janet Bamford

  • 2
    Or prod itself.
    – gidds
    Commented Feb 27, 2023 at 14:18
  • 1
    @gidds Actually, "prod" might be closer to what OP's looking for. :)
    – JK2
    Commented Feb 28, 2023 at 0:24

Another good word: impetus

1a(1) : a driving force : impulse

1a(2): incentive, stimulus

1b: stimulation or encouragement resulting in increased activity


We sometimes speak of jump starting something, or of giving something a jump start. The idiom originally refers to a car being started with the aid of a battery from another car, but it can be used metaphorically in other contexts. The expression suggests that something can be kept going once it is started, but that assistance is needed to start it.

  • Also "kick start," no doubt from motorcycle riding Commented Feb 27, 2023 at 20:43

One colloquial expression used is (from Farlex)

a shot in the arm
Fig. a boost or act of encouragement.
The pep talk was a real shot in the arm for all the guys.
The good test grade was a shot in the arm for Gary.

The literal meaning is an injection of drugs.


If a verb is okay, you can use "to spark" for this. According to Oxford Learners,

to cause something to start or develop, especially suddenly

The proposal would spark a storm of protest around the country.

  • spark is a good one, and is more like inspire, although in my case it's a bit rude: you kick the person, and they start at last doing something
    – NadinSh
    Commented Mar 1, 2023 at 7:11

Give a hand, a boost, a leg up are expressions that may convey the idea of helping someone to start doing something.

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    I don't often comment on other answers, but aren't these expressions used when someone is already active, but can't easily manage? Commented Feb 26, 2023 at 18:03

A word you could use is initiative

a new plan or process to achieve something or solve a problem

an introductory step - Merriam Webster

an introductory act or step; leading action, serving to set in motion or initiate; introductory; beginning - dictionary.com

"You need to take the initiative; start your own company before someone else does"

  • thank you, I'm looking for something as "naughty" and informal as mine.
    – NadinSh
    Commented Mar 1, 2023 at 7:13


My get-up-and-go has got up and went.

I lost my get-up-and-go and my mojo.

Links to Cambridge definitions above.

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