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 everywhere except the corner that the person is standing in, so that to leave the room the person has no choice but to step on the freshly painted floor 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.