There's a Hungarian phrase that can be literally translated as something like "fall off the other side of the horse". (The literal implication is either that instead of falling off this side of the horse, you fell off the other side; or that in your zeal to get on the horse, you overshot the target and fell off the other side.) It means that you are at one extreme of a situation, and you want to change it so hard that you fall into the opposite extreme. Is there an equivalent of this phrase/idiom in English?

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    @Robusto, no ‒ “bend over backwards” means “try very hard to please someone” (1, 2, 3) – James Waldby - jwpat7 Jan 10 '13 at 19:09
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    The resulting situation is often covered by "the cure is worse than the disease", but that doesn't really cover the action itself. – Marthaª Jan 10 '13 at 19:44
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    Oh, and for the curious, the Hungarian phrase in question is "átesik a ló túloldalára". – Marthaª Jan 10 '13 at 19:45
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    Perhaps "Out of the frying pan into the fire", meaning that in avoiding one disaster you embraced another? If you've a taste for classical allusion, "Scylla and Charybdis" means much the same thing. But neither really implies running "from one extreme to the other" – StoneyB on hiatus Jan 10 '13 at 19:56

10 Answers 10


If that expression means that by going to the other extreme you are still in trouble, this expression might fit:


"out of the frying pan and into the fire"

per @MikeM's comment that I had the expression slightly wrong

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    The expression is more commonly, out of the frying pan [and] into the fire. – MikeM Jan 10 '13 at 20:21
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    @Kristina Lopez: The expression you offer, "[out of] the frying pan into the fire", means that an even worse outcome, not an equally dire one, ensues. You only claimed that your answer 'might fit', but Dolfy identified it as a 'perfect match'. It is not. Assuming that Scylla and Charybdis were equally nasty, the meaning of the Latin expression is equivalent (to one of the notions put forward by the OP - not the 'overshoot' notion) - but I don't think the English translation is used nowadays. – Edwin Ashworth Jan 10 '13 at 20:34
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    I agree. Let's popularise 'He fell off the other side of his horse' - it's a fun image. Thelwellian. – Edwin Ashworth Jan 10 '13 at 22:48
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    This phrase does not capture the main meaning: that of the opposite extreme. "out of the frying pan and into the fire" has a near exact Hungarian version, with two synonyms for "bucket", and one falling from one into the other, meaning that you try to avoid a bad situation but you end up in the same one (or a worse one, but still of the same type). The horse analogy is used for ending up in the opposite extreme, for example when a law is considered to be discriminating against a group, they try to correct it, and end up with one that is even more discriminatory, but against the other group. – vsz Jan 11 '13 at 5:43
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    @EdwinAshworth: the problem is not with equally nasty or more nasty. The problem is, just like with the Scylla and Charybdis, that it is about the same type of problem. You try to avoid a bad situation, but end up in the same (or worse), but still in the same type of a problem. This is not even close to the meaning of the horse analogy, where you end up with a completely different problem, as the result of overcompensating. And, the horse analogy does not necessarily mean a problem or a bad situation. It might only mean that you stated an opinion that is considered to be the opposite extreme. – vsz Jan 11 '13 at 5:51

Simply to 'go from one extreme to the other' or 'go from one extreme to another'.


The idiom go overboard (“To go to extremes, especially as a result of enthusiasm”) implies extremity, although not necessarily the opposite extremity.

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    Yes, something like that. Just found this: Go from one extreme to the other. Maybe this is the best I can get. – Dolfy Jan 10 '13 at 18:30

Answering the ‘It means that you are at one extreme of a situation, and you want to change it so hard that you fall into the opposite extreme’ part:

In Old Tales Retold from Grecian Mythology in Talks Around the Fire (1876) by Augusta Larned (as at google books), it is stated that

To escape Scylla only to fall on Charybdis

‘has become a proverbial expression’.

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    I'm not sure how common that expression is. In casual conversation, I suspect most people would respond with "huh?". – user9383 Jan 10 '13 at 22:35
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    The problem is that it's not about an opposite extreme, but about ending up with the exact same (or maybe worse, but still of the same type) problem. – vsz Jan 11 '13 at 4:39
  • I agree with vsz-- sort of an out-of-the-frying-pan-into-the-fire feeling to it. – Iucounu Jan 11 '13 at 8:14
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    The tale of Scylla and Charybdis is usually used to depict a choice between two evils, rather than over-enthusiasm. – Bobble Jan 16 '13 at 19:56

I recently came across an old British proverb that refers to the very situation that your Hungarian saying does. From James Kelly, Complete Collection of Scottish Proverbs (1721):

[The proverb:] You breed of Lady Mary, when you're good you're o'er good.

[Explanation:] A drunken Man beg'd Lady Mary [the Virgin Mary, presumably] to help him on his Horse, and having made many Attempts to no purpose, he always reiterated the same Petition ; at length he jump'd quite over. O Lady Mary, (said he) when thou art good, thou art o'er good.

Unfortunately, as awareness of the difficulty of mounting a horse while drunk (or otherwise incapacitated) became less commonplace in the English-speaking world, this particular proverb fell into disuse. But it vividly captures the idea of finally succeeding in a difficult climb, only to go sliding down the other side (of the horse).


"complete" + (U-turn, about-face, change of course, change of heart, reversal, switch in positions, turn-around, flip-flop); going to the opposite extreme

  • I'm surprised that two people down-voted my answer. I wrote my answer prior to MikeM's popular answer, and mine is the most complete and correct of any here. Answers missing key points of the requirement get lots of upvotes... insane! – Iucounu Jan 11 '13 at 16:42
  • For the record, i upvoted your answer because there is room for interpretation if you are open-minded enough to mull on another's viewpoint - for example: if you were sitting in a frying pan, your butt would get hot so you would jump up - opposite of the location of the heat - but jumping up could likely have you end up in the fire, when you land. So you might intend to go to the extreme without intending to end up somewhere worse. That's my interpretation of my answer which jives with OP's intent and affirmation. – Kristina Lopez Jan 11 '13 at 16:59

Though it doesn’t have the same flavor as the original Hungarian phrase, the term overcorrect is often used in such situations.


Not exactly what you're asking for, but throw out the baby with the bath water might be suitable in many contexts.

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    No. I'm not downvoting, but that idiom means waste by losing something valuable, in the course of getting rid of something that is undesirable. – Iucounu Jan 10 '13 at 18:38
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    that is a specific example of going to far though – jk. Jan 11 '13 at 9:52

It's not exactly a proverbial phrase, but "falling over yourself" is sometimes used for getting into some difficulty through an excess of enthusiasm:

He was falling over himself to help out.

  • This really doesn't mean anything like the phrase in question. – Marthaª Jan 11 '13 at 15:11

" He went at it like a bull at a gate "?

  • Hello, Pyramus. Though this is connected, it does not give the 'ended up in a different mess' asked for by OP. – Edwin Ashworth Jul 24 '15 at 10:06
  • Please give an explanation as to why this suits the request. – Matt E. Эллен Jul 24 '15 at 10:32

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