Glossary Home Idioms

Out of the frying pan and into the fire

“Out of the frying pan and into the fire” is a clever way of depicting a bad situation getting worse.

“Out of the frying pan and into the fire” is a popular and amusing idiom that clearly evokes the situation it describes. From the phrase itself it’s possible to understand exactly what kind of situation is being depicted. If someone moves from the frying pan to the fire, they’ve gotten out of one bad situation to only end up in another worse one. 

Out of the frying pan and into the fire idiom

 

Meaning of “Out of the frying pan and into the fire”

“Out of the frying pan and into the fire” is a clever way of depicting a bad situation getting worse. If someone escapes from a frying pan only to land in the fire, they’ve made their situation worse. They would’ve been better off sticking with the first unpleasant choice than trying to change their circumstances. As is the case with several other idioms, this one can mean the same thing if the verbs are changed. There are other examples, as noted below in the “Origins” section. 

 

When To Use “Out of the frying pan and into the fire”

Depending on how one uses “out of the frying pan and into the fire” it’s possible for the phrase to come across comedically or seriously. Someone might use the idiom offhandedly to depict a situation they’re in or they might use it with more intensity and stress to imply they’re truly in a bad situation. As is the case with most idioms, this one is better used in the company of friends, family members, and close colleagues than it is in a business or academic setting. It would be unusual to find a phrase like this in a paper, speech, or used at a business meeting (although not it’s impossible when the content is related). 

 

Example Sentences with “Out of the frying pan and into the fire”

  • I just can’t believe this happened. I’m seriously out of the frying pan and into the fire. 
  • Are you watching the news? Looks like they’re out of the frying pan and into the fire. 
  • My number one goal is to make sure this works out and next week I’m not talking about being out of the frying pan but into the fire. 
  • As long as I can stay out of the fire, I’m happy to keep struggling in the frying pan. 

 

Why Do Writers Use “Out of the frying pan and into the fire?”

Writers use “out of the frying pan and into the fire” for the same reasons and in the same way that it is used in everyday speech. It enhances the speaker’s and the listener’s understanding of a situation. Most English speakers are going to understand this phrase and therefore have a common point of reference when it’s used. It should be noted that although idioms can increase the interest of a particular passage of written dialogue, they can also have the opposite effect. Some, which are particularly cliche, are hard to fit into “normal” sounding conversations. 

 

Origins of “Out of the frying pan and into the fire”

“Out of the frying pan and into the fire” is a very old idiom that dates back to a poem by Germanicus Caesar, who lived 15 BCE – 19 CE. It can be found in the Greek Anthology, a collection of poems that span from the Classical to Byzantine periods of Greek literature. The material in this anthology comes from two manuscripts, the Palatine Anthology and the Anthology of Planudes. In the poem, the phrase is used to describe a hare running from a dog. In its desperate attempt to escape, the hare jumps into the sea and is attacked by a “sea-dog” or a dogfish shark. 

In Latin, lovers of language can find an equivalent version of the phrase that in English reads:

He runs on Scylla, wishing to avoid Charybdis.

It’s not unusual, especially with a saying this old, to find versions that are different than that which is used today. These idioms have the same meaning, they just use different examples to illustrate the point. 

In English, the first know use was by Thomas More in The Confutacyon of Tyndales Answere, published in 1532. He wrote: 

featly conuayed himself out of the frying panne fayre into the fyre.

The version used today was the subject of one of Aesops’ fables. 

 

Related Idioms 

  • “That ship has sailed.” 
  • “There are clouds on the horizon.” 
  • “Through thick and thin.” 
  • Shape up or ship out.” 
  • “Run like the wind.” 

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