Learn English – Looking for idiom meaning “to make many serious or stupid mistakes”


I'm working on a translation with the guidelines to make it as accurate as possible, so dynamic equivalence is important. My provisional translation is "to screw up royally," but it feels a bit too extreme compared to the original phrase.

EDIT: I belatedly realized I should've explained the context better.

The (Ukrainian) idiom literally translates as "to break firewood." It's meant to evoke the image of chopping logs incorrectly or incompetently, thus ruining them for their intended use. The translated sentence reads as follows:

"Yes, on one hand it may be correct to catch a bunch of smugglers, but on the other, it is possible to break firewood."

The context of the sentence is that simply capturing criminals while disregarding the underlying cause for their existence — the local population's mentality and socioeconomic status — is (as the used idiom indicates) a mistake that will carry a repeated or cumulative negative effect.

I hope this explains things better and my apologies for doing such a poor job of it the first time around.

Best Answer

I'd suggest "make a hash of", which is defined by oxforddictionaries.com as "make a mess of; bungle".

This phrase seems especially apt as a translation of the original Ukranian idiom because the origin of the verb "to hash" is given by the Online Etymology Dictionary as "from French hacher 'chop up' (14c.), from Old French hache 'ax' (see hatchet)".