You Threw Stones Against Your Own Roof

This week’s idiom is a little bit less common than usual. In Spanish, they say “tirar piedras contra el propio tejado.” Directly translated, the phrase means “to throw stones against your own roof.” It’s usually used in the context of when you hurt yourself by seeking revenge. It’s a self-destructive overreaction.

What do we say in English? To cut off one’s nose to spite his face.

It’s kind of a strange idiom, and not one I hear very often. Honestly, I feel like it’s not a very big part of our generation, and I did some extra research to figure out exactly what it even meant. I found some examples that I think help.

If a man and his wife get into a fight, are getting divorced, etc, the man might burn down the house to punish the woman. But really, he just cut off his nose to spite his face, because he can’t live there anymore either.

A historical example: The Embargo Act of 1807, passed by the United States Congress in protest against British and French interference in U.S. shipping. The Act had the side-effect of prohibiting nearly all U.S. exports and most imports, greatly disrupting the U.S. economy. Congress cut off their nose to spite their face, because really, the Act designed to help the economy just made it more complicated.

The Spanish idiom I think is easier to understand. If you throw rocks against your own roof, the roof is going to break, and you would have messed up your own house. You did it to yourself.

Origins?  For the English idiom, it’s believed that it goes back to the Middle Ages. A legend says that a group of nuns disfigured themselves (by cutting off their noses) to protect their virginity  from the invading Vikings (YIKES, right?). As it is told, the Vikings were so disgusted that they ended up burning the entire building to the ground. I couldn’t find origins of the Spanish idiom, but I think that one is a lot more self-explanatory.

I guess the morale of the story is to think about revenge, because both languages believe that it can have negative consequences.

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13 Responses to You Threw Stones Against Your Own Roof

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  10. Sergio says:

    “It’s usually used in the context of when you hurt yourself by seeking revenge. It’s a self-destructive overreaction”.
    I´m Spanish, and a Spanish teacher, and I would never use it like that. It is more like “foul your own nest” or the more colloquial “shit on your own doorstep”.
    Cheers.

  11. mjg5598 says:

    I love reading these! It makes me think twice about revenge. These idioms clearly have been around for centuries, so we really should learn from them.

  12. Danny Magerman says:

    Very insightful and multidimensional blog topic. Big fan of Spanish. Idioms aren’t bad either. Are you a native Spanish speaker?

  13. Kate Kielceski says:

    Once again, so interesting. I am always so interested in the similarities between cultures and our obscure idioms. Keep it up! 🙂

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