be breaking a butterfly on a wheel(redirected from are breaking a butterfly on a wheel)
be breaking a butterfly on a wheel
To be applying an excessive amount of force to achieve something minor, unimportant, or insignificant. The phrase appears in the rhetorical question, "Who breaks a butterfly upon a wheel?" The line is a quotation from Alexander Pope's poem "Epistle to Dr Arbuthnot." To "break upon a wheel" refers to a form of torture in which the victim has their bones broken while strapped to a large wheel. Primarily heard in UK. The government's use of drone strikes and artillery bombing on the town to wipe out a tiny faction of rebels is totally unjustifiable—they're breaking a butterfly upon a wheel.
Farlex Dictionary of Idioms. © 2015 Farlex, Inc, all rights reserved.
be breaking a butterfly on a wheelBRITISH, LITERARY
If you say that someone is breaking a butterfly on a wheel, you mean that they are using far more force than is necessary to do something. The Huglets have had their ideology combed over, examined, misinterpreted and rewritten. Talk about breaking a butterfly on a wheel. Note: This is a quotation from `Epistle to Dr Arbuthnot' (1735) by Alexander Pope. In the past, the wheel was an instrument of torture. A person was tied to it and then their arms and legs were broken or they were beaten to death. Compare with a sledgehammer to crack a nut.
Collins COBUILD Idioms Dictionary, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2012