Be hoist with one's own petard.



What is the meaning and origin of the idiom "be hoist with one's own petard"?

By Gonzalo, Ecuador (11th Dec.2006).

Scholars claim that “be hoist with one's own petard" is an expression, which was made popular by Shakespeare. The idiom "be hoist with one's own petard" is a line from his well-known tragedy "Hamlet". First, let's start with the pronunciation of "petard". The "e" can be either pronounced like the "a" in "china" or like the "i" in "bit", "pit", and "sit". The "ar" that follows is like the "ar" in "car", "par", and "far". The stress is on the second syllable.

The "petard" was actually a crude kind of bomb that was used in the old days by invading armies. Soldiers used to place these bell shaped bombs near the walls/gates and then light the slow burning fuse that was attached to them. Sometimes, however, the fuse burnt much more quickly than expected, and in the process blew up not only the wall/gate, but also the man who was lighting the bomb. The soldier was lifted off or hoisted off his feet by the exploding bomb. The "oi" in "hoist" sounds like the "oi" in "oil", "boil", and "soil".

Now that you know the origin of the expression, you can probably guess its meaning. So what do you think the idiom "be hoist with one's own petard" means? It means creating problems for yourself. Have you ever had a plan backfire on you? You may have planned to create a problem for someone, but something goes wrong and you end up creating problems for yourself. Instead of the other person, you end up having egg on your face. Just like the unpredictable bomb (petard), it blows up on your face, instead of on the face of your opponent.

Here are a few examples.

* Shambu wanted to murder his brother Ram but was hoist with his own petard when he accidentally ate the poison that was intended for him.

* The teachers were hoist with their own petard when the inquiry they had asked for determined that they were being overpaid and not underpaid.

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