paint oneself into a corner

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A group of men painting a spa

From the idea that a person painting the floor of a room may inadvertently apply the paint over the whole floor so as to trap the person in a corner away from any exit, so that to leave the room the person has no choice but to step on the fresh paint and damage it.


  • (Received Pronunciation) IPA(key): /ˈpeɪnt wʌnsɛlf ɪntʊ ə ˈkɔɹnɚ/, /ˈpeɪnt wʌnsɛlf ɪntʊ ə ˈkɔːnə(ɹ)/
  • (General American) IPA(key): /ˈpeɪnt wʌnsɛlf ɪntu ə ˈkɔɹnɚ/
  • (file)
  • Hyphenation: paint one‧self into a cor‧ner


paint oneself into a corner (third-person singular simple present paints oneself into a corner, present participle painting oneself into a corner, simple past and past participle painted oneself into a corner)

  1. (idiomatic) To create a predicament or problem for oneself; to do something that leaves one with no good alternatives or solutions.
    • 2001, Carolyn R. Russell, “Introduction”, in The Films of Joel and Ethan Coen, Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Company, →ISBN, pages 3–4:
      The Coens [Coen brothers] write their screenplays in a manner as unorthodox as the films that result from them. [] They paint themselves into a corner, plotwise, then perform whatever literary gymnastics are necessary in order to paint themselves out.
    • 2007, Risa B. Sodi, “Giuliana Tedeschi: Wife, Mother, Survivor”, in Narrative & Imperative: The First Fifty Years of Italian Holocaust Writing (1944–1994), New York, N.Y.: Peter Lang Publishing, →ISBN, page 141:
      [Giuliana] Tedeschi thus rejects the mythicization of the Holocaust, in her book and in others'. By claiming a separate, privileged space for documentary writing and survivor nonfiction, she in effect paints herself into a corner, forced thereafter to deny the presence—even the abundance—of literary tropes and writerly devices in her own work.
    • 2009, Vivian Liska, “Introduction: Uncommon Communities”, in When Kafka Says We: Uncommon Communities in German-Jewish Literature, Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press, →ISBN:
      In his diary entry from 8 January 1914, Franz Kafka writes: "What have I in common with Jews? I have hardly anything in common with myself and should stand very quietly in a corner, content that I can breathe" [] [T]his corner could also, tragically, describe the place where Kafka feels he should position himself, painting himself into a corner, into a dead end, where nothing but bare life stripped of all existential substance and support can subsist.
    • 2011, Hillel Glazer, “The Man versus the Money”, in High Performance Operations: Leverage Compliance to Lower Costs, Increase Profits, and Gain Competitive Advantage, Upper Saddle River, N.J.: FT Press, →ISBN, pages 57–58:
      Executives and businesses are often painted into a corner. They unwittingly lock themselves and their companies into a rigid bureaucratic way of dealing with rules, regulations, and compliance matters.