"Throwing the baby out with the bathwater" means that something essential is lost in the process of getting rid of something unwanted (and relatively minor).

I'm looking for a phrase that means that one brings something greatly negative upon oneself in the process of obtaining something that is wanted (and relatively minor). Is there one?

EDIT: Slight elaboration: The phrase should mean that the process of obtaining A (the relatively minor positive thing) unavoidably brings with it B (the big negative thing). It is entirely possible that A might be obtained in another way, by the way.

As I write that, I think I know the phrase, but I'm not sure it exists in English (I'm Swedish). It is something to do with fixing minor problems with hand grenades, e.g. "Like fighting house rats with hand grenades". I don't know if there is an original, standard version however. Has anyone got an idea?


6 Answers 6


You could try "cut off your nose to spite your face".

This is used where you bring a lot of trouble on yourself pursuing a minor victory, such as getting even with somebody. As it has this 'angry' aspect, it might not be exactly the same as throwing the baby out with the bathwater, but I can't think of a closer one.

  • Roaring, I edited question's title since question itself was asking for more of a parallel than an opposite. You may need to adjust last sentence of your answer Commented Oct 28, 2012 at 15:57
  • I'm afraid I had to revert that edit. The choice of the word "opposite" might not be the best, but "parallel" suggests that I'm looking for an analogous phrase. The baby-bathwater-phrase means roughly "get rid of something unwanted: also lose something essential", while I'm looking for a phrase that means "obtain something wanted: also bring something very bad upon oneself"
    – andreasdr
    Commented Oct 29, 2012 at 17:12
  • This phrase doesn't capture the aspect of "gaining" two things: one good, one bad, but I believe this phrase is the closest to what I'm looking for (until the one about house rats and hand grenades starts to spread :) ).
    – andreasdr
    Commented Oct 30, 2012 at 10:53

Based on your second paragraph, I think a Pyrrhic victory might qualify:

Someone who wins a "Pyrrhic victory" has been victorious in some way; however, the heavy toll or the detrimental consequences negates any sense of achievement or profit.

This doesn't necessarily capture the aspect of "obtaining something that is wanted (and relatively minor)"; however, I don't think the original idiom always reflects that either.

For instance: "To suggest eliminating all military spending to meet defense budget constraints is throwing the baby out with the bathwater". Many might not see budget cuts as "minor", but the proposed solution is nonetheless extreme where the costs may outweigh the benefits.

  • I agree, a Pyrrhic victory describes something that is unexpectedly costly, but ultimately worth the effort. Not quite what I'm looking for, but thanks for the input!
    – andreasdr
    Commented Oct 30, 2012 at 10:49
  • 2
    Historically, Hannibal said “One more victory like this will be the end of me.” A pyrrhic victory is definitely not worth it.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Mar 28, 2015 at 12:48
  • @gnasher729 Did Hannibal say that too? Pyrrhus said it a few decades before Hannibal's time, and Phyrric victory is named after him, of course :) But not to throw the baby out with the bathwater, you make a valid point though.
    – Jacinto
    Commented Sep 1, 2015 at 19:43

A traditional metaphor is "sow the wind and reap the whirlwind".

As noted in the linked Wikipedia article, the origin is the "Book of Hosea", part of the Hebrew Bible.


"House rats with hand grenades" has an idiomatic ring to it and is completely understandable even though I've never heard it before. It might not be useful for formal speech, but neither are most idioms.

  • No, that's just something I made up. Hope it catches on ;).
    – andreasdr
    Commented Oct 29, 2012 at 18:27
  • @andreasdr But I'm pretty sure I've heard similar idioms - "Swatting flies with a sledgehammer" comes to mind ... I think there's a few specifically including handgrenades, too
    – hunter2
    Commented Jul 26, 2013 at 6:49

There is an expression ''using a sledge hammer to crack a nut'' which is similar to your hand grenade example but not exactly what you asked for in your opening sentences.
Another expression ''be careful what you wish for'' generally means that getting what you desire may have unforeseen consequences. This may be closer to what you are looking for.


In Spanish there's a saying that applies to that idea

"peor el remedio que la enfermedad" [being, "the remedy worse than the sickness"]

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