Month: November 2017

devil-may-care

Another ‘devil’ expression, meaning reckless, careless, light-hearted. This phrase is part of a longer idiom: ‘The devil may care, but I do not.’ Some dictionaries state that the first published use of the expression was 1837, though none of them give a reference source to support the claim.  However, it appears in The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens, which was…

speak of the devil!

A reference to the coincidence of someone who appears unexpectedly while being talked about. The phrase is the short form of the idiom, “Speak of the devil and he doth appear.” It’s used when an object or person being discussed unexpectedly becomes present during the conversation. It can also be used about any topic that suddenly becomes relevant. The proverb…

throw for a loop

Originally, to strike a person hard; nowadays, to shock, surprise, astonish, amaze, stun, or bewilder someone. ‘Knock for a loop’ which preceded ‘throw for a loop’ and might be related to ‘could have knocked me over with a feather.’ Google Ngrams shows ‘knocked for a loop’ appearing around 1918, and “thrown for a loop” around 1945. Originally this American expression…

devil’s advocate

Figuratively, someone who takes a contrary position for the sake of testing an argument, or just to be perverse. The original Devil’s Advocate was a real person with a real job. During the canonization process employed by the Roman Catholic Church, the Promoter of the Faith (Latin: promotor fidei), popularly known as the Devil’s advocate (Latin: advocatus diaboli), was a…

between the devil and the deep blue sea

Faced with two dangerous alternatives, with neither option offering any clear benefits. The first print record of ‘the devil and the deep sea’ is in Robert Monro’s His expedition with the worthy Scots regiment called Mac-keyes, 1637: “I, with my partie, did lie on our poste, as betwixt the devill and the deep sea.” You’ll note, from that source, that…

bitch

Literally, a female dog. But it has become a slang put-down for a woman (usually), whether or not she’s unreasonable, malicious, a control freak, rudely intrusive, or aggressive. When applied to a man, bitch is a derogatory term for a subordinate.  According to the Oxford English Dictionary, ‘bitch’ comes from the Old English word bicce, meaning ‘female dog,’ dating back…

on the horns of a dilemma

Confronted with two equally disagreeable choices. Finding yourself in a position where you’re faced with two equally unpleasant options appears to be a common human condition. Language usually reflects the realities we experience, and there are several phrases that express this problem of choices, for example: ‘the lesser of two evils,’ ‘between the devil and the deep blue sea,’ ‘between…