Disclaimer: in my question I'm not asking for an idiom with a certain meaning; the other way around: I'm interested in a specific idiom and I'm asking whether native English speakers would understand it the same as Russian speakers understand a very similar idiom in Russian. So please do not close the question as a "duplicate" of Is there an idiom for making the same mistake repeatedly?. For sure I've seen it, I've studied the answers, my question is different and not answered there.

In Russian there is an idiom "наступать на грабли" which is literally the same as "step on a rake" in English. I'm trying to figure out whether these idioms have exactly the same meaning or not.

In Wiktionary the meaning of the English counterpart is explained simply as "to fall victim to a hazard". But in Russian the idiom's meaning is shifted to "repeatedly step on the same rake". Indeed, I would separate the hazard of stepping on a rake and the hazard of stepping on a snake, because in many cases we cannot avoid a bite of a snake who hides in the grass, while we can easily avoid the rake hitting in our face simply putting it tines down... So in Russian the idiom implies the stupidity of somebody making harm to himself forgetting a rake in the grass, especially having prior experience of what would happen if he steps on it later.

Is this meaning implied by the English idiom "to step on a rake"?

Update: for sure prior to asking my own one, I've seen the question Is there an idiom for making the same mistake repeatedly?, but these questions are different. I'm not interested in how to express, but in would native English speakers understand the exact phrase "step on a rake" in the same way Russians would. There is no answer to my question in the "duplicate". Please reopen.

  • 2
    Is this purely a Simpsons reference in both Russian and English?
    – Stuart F
    Mar 23, 2023 at 11:10
  • You can easily avoid the bite of the snake hiding in the grass. Just walk loudly, stomping with your feet, or hitting the ground with a staff or cane, and all snakes will be gone long before your feet risk getting close to them.
    – Stef
    Mar 23, 2023 at 20:21
  • “Step on a rake” is so painful, it’s a mistake you only make once :-)
    – gnasher729
    Mar 23, 2023 at 20:35
  • 2
    This gag was very common in Tom and Jerry cartoons. youtu.be/h6CgnTL6KU4 Mar 23, 2023 at 20:53
  • I will confess that I did this a couple of times when I was a teenager. In a way it's simply part of growing up -- learning that there are such hazards and taking care to avoid them.
    – Hot Licks
    Mar 24, 2023 at 23:33

3 Answers 3


Stepping on a rake evokes the visual "joke" of someone walking carelessly onto a lying rake and getting violently struck in the face and torso, it's been used in cartoons and slapstick comedy throughout the 20th century but as an idiom, it is less common.

The literal definition by Wiktionary was created in October 2006, and although it is a collaborative website, it has never been modified.

To step on the tines of a garden rake, causing the handle of the rake to rise from the ground rapidly, invariably striking the person walking in the face.

Searching on Google reveals that nearly all the online dictionary definitions are copied verbatim from Wiktionary. Examples include; Phrases, Wordnik, and YourDictionary, which lists it as a compound, step-on-a-rake. In September 2006, Toadbath posted their first and only definition in Urban Dictionary

to say or do something seemingly uncontroversial which evokes an unexpectedly vehement response - akin to the experience of stepping on a rake in the dark such that the shaft swings up and suddenly hits one in the face.
“He probably thought it would be an innocent remark, little realising he would step on a rake in view of the violent respnse [sic] it was likely to draw.”

In seventeen years that definition has raked in a mere 28 thumbs up, suggesting it isn't very popular or commonly used–at least by UD readers.

On October 29, 2001, a user by the name of Patty, posted a question on The Phrase Finder discussion forum

My husband recently received a note from someone in Britain who used the expression "I stepped on a rake" to mean that he caused himself some trouble, or stumbled into a bad situation. Is this a common phrase, or just a metaphor this particular individual chose? Thanks. - Patty

Two answers were posted which neither confirmed nor rejected Patty's suppositions.

If the OP wanted to say they made a stupid blunder, or they inadvertently harmed themself, then by all means use "step on a rake". But if they want to emphasize the idea of making a mistake repeatedly, a more effective phrase would be "I screwed up again”.


The idea that stepping on a rake meaning repeatedly making the same mistake might be influenced by a (slightly famous?) scene from The Simpsons (from the episode Cape Feare, S05E02), where the character Sideshow Bob repeatedly steps on multiple rakes.

Based solely on personal experience (native U.S. English speaker), "step on a rake" had the connotations of 1) walking along, maybe not being too thoughtful or cautious, and 2) something unanticipated coming from where you weren't looking and smacking you in the face. But as one of millions who watching that episode over and over, these days I can't hear the phrase and not think of the repeated smacks to the face that Sideshow Bob got.

  • First it hurts your foot. Badly.
    – gnasher729
    Mar 23, 2023 at 20:37

In (American) English "stepping on a rake" implies not just making a mistake, but making a foreseeable mistake, which you should have avoided by not being so sloppy and careless.

You stepped on the rake and smashed your face because you (or someone else) lazily left the rake laying in the grass, and stupidly left the rake with the tines pointed up.

generic person stepping forward onto a rake; handle hits them in the face

The American English phrase (which I just made up) which has the same meaning as "наступать на грабли" would be "don't keep stepping on the same rake" (i.e. making the same stupid and painful mistake over and over again).

Image source: Stepping vs. Jumping On A Rake (Know Your Meme)


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