have a/the wolf by the ear(s)

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have a/the wolf by the ear(s)

To be in a difficult situation from which it is as dangerous to extricate oneself as it is to remain in it. I'm afraid we have a wolf by the ears regarding our current healthcare system. It would be unthinkable to completely overhaul it, but it is dangerously untenable in its current condition. The authoritarian regime has the wolf by the ear with the way it treats the population.
See also: have, wolf

have (or hold) a wolf by the ears

be in a precarious position.
The saying became current in English in the mid 16th century, but the Roman comic dramatist Terence ( 195–159 bc ) mentions its Latin equivalent, lupum auribus tenere , as already being an old saying in his time. Compare with have a tiger by the tail (at tiger).
1990 George Will Suddenly A Communist Party administering an economy is holding a wolf by the ears.
See also: ear, have, wolf