Day 287: Opening a can of worms

“Opening a can of worms” is an idiom.

“Idiom” is a word I avoid, sometimes, because it sounds like the word “idiot.”

When people use this idiom, it’s a warning about a possible negative result of change.

If you […insert change here….], you’ll be opening a can of worms!

I hear this a lot, from within and without.

If you try something new, and it doesn’t work, you’ll feel like an idiot!

If you ….

  1. change a process, at work or elsewhere,
  2. talk to somebody about something upsetting,
  3. introduce somebody new into your life,
  4. move, one way or another,
  5. take a risk, of any kind

… you might be opening up a can of worms.

Eeeeeeeeeeeeek!   Worms!!!


Last week, at work, we were discussing a possible change, and a manager used that expression.

Yesterday, at home, I was discussing a possible change with my boyfriend, and he used that expression.

I’m not kidding, people, I hear that expression a lot.

This is what I said to my boyfriend, though:

Wait a minute!  We might be opening up a can of worms, it’s true.  But, Michael!  It’s just a can!

Because I was picturing a can of this size:


and so was he.

So I asked,

Why are people so scared of opening a can of worms, then?

Here’s a quote, from Mental Floss, about the idiom:

Metaphorically speaking, to open a can of worms is to examine or attempt to solve some problem, only to inadvertently complicate it and create even more trouble. Literally speaking, opening a can of worms, as most fishermen can attest, can also mean more trouble than you bargained for.

Here’s another one, from Yahoo Answers:

Opening a can of worms means to start to reveal something that will be messy and hard to conceal. A literal can of worms would be filled with hundreds of squirmy worms that would fall all over the place. Attempting to catch all of them and get them back in the can would be very difficult. The same goes for so many things in our lives. Sometimes there are things that we say that can’t be reversed or put back in the can, as it were. And like the worms that spread out everywhere the thing in question will spread out and impact other people.

Hmmm.  So I guess the fear makes sense, doesn’t it?

But, as I said to Michael,

What if the worms DO all escape?  How can they hurt us, really?

I mean, it’s not like we’re opening up a Tanker of Tarantulas.


I don’t know about you, but I’m not so scared about opening up a can of worms, right now.

Thanks to Michael, grasshopper_ramblin, spaghetti in cans, worms everywhere, people considering a change, and to you, of course, for reading today.

Categories: personal growth | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

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11 thoughts on “Day 287: Opening a can of worms

  1. Always awesome to see another perspective! I’ve always thought of opening a can worms in relation to intentionally throwing a wrench into the works with a goal to stir up trouble in an area that may or may not be my business…. Starting something new that can make things better is more like reaching for the stars…. Just my 2 cents or nickle I guess, since we don’t have pennies anymore. 🙂 I bet even when I’m reaching for the stars there are those that may view my actions as opening a can of worms – a good eye-opener for me this morning!

    • Speaking of cents and nickels, I think those different perspectives are two sides of the same coin, Diana. Thanks for your eye-opening comment, as usual.

  2. I had always thought of the expression to mean bringing up something that you KNOW would cause problems; rather than stretching out into the unknown (which may or may not). A subtle yet significant difference. So I will leave the can of worms alone yet maybe will open the unlabelled can to see what is inside.

  3. I tend to agree — opening a can of worms can be a good thing if you’re not afraid of worms, or are a wormologist (what do they call people who study worms?) and anyway, who put the worms in the can in the first place. Worms don’t belong in cans, they belong in the earth where they do all sorts of good things for the soil and provide food for birds and… hmmm… maybe the person who invented that saying was the one who wanted to hide the fact, he/she is the one who put the worms in the can where they didn’t belong! 🙂

  4. Mark

    Here’s what comes to mind for me: George W. Bush, Iraq War, the Law of Unintended Consequences.
    Can of worms from day 1.

  5. Pingback: Day 393: Left holding the bag (more idioms from Ann) | The Year(s) of Living Non-Judgmentally

  6. Pingback: Day 1479: Open Up | The Year(s) of Living Non-Judgmentally

  7. Pingback: Day 2288: Open | The Year(s) of Living Non-Judgmentally

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