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What is the origin and definition of the expression "caught between a rock and a hard place"? I also heard it in a situation where it could have had a jocose double sense, but I may have misunderstood.

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Yesterday I got my snowblower jammed between my van and a bank of hardened snow. Not exactly a rock and a hard place, but pretty close. – Hot Licks Feb 5 at 18:35
up vote 4 down vote accepted

The expression is used when there is a dilemma or only two equally difficult decisions. It can be implied where there is a mandatory to make a choice between at least two unpleasant choices.

The origin, according to Phrases Dictionary, is derived from an economic issue where workers face underpaid wages ( a rock) and unemployment (hard place). The full version of the story can be found in the reference.

Other origin worths mentioned is the Greek mythology "Between Scylla and Charybdis", where Odysseus has to take a route between six-headed monster Scylla and the whirlpool Charybdis. For further reading on Wikipedia.

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There's also between the devil and the deep blue sea, of course. – FumbleFingers Jul 4 '11 at 21:13
I'll go with the diablo, I'm not much of a swimmer :) – Jamie Jul 4 '11 at 21:31
Except I believe in this case the devil isn't Old Nick himself - it's supposed to be a nautical term for the seam between the deck planking and the topmost plank of the ship's side. Whatever, I'd rather steer clear of all of them! – FumbleFingers Jul 4 '11 at 21:41
+1 for the link, though I don't find it's reasoning all that convincing. – user1579 Jul 5 '11 at 0:39
@FumbleFingers: no, you're confusing your etymythologies. The OED gives no meaning of "devil" as a seam of a ship, but it does mention the suggestion that "the devil to pay" refers to such a seam, though it says that "there is no evidence that this is the original sense". It mentions nothing of the sort in relation to your expression. All in all, "between the devil and the deep (blue) sea" is so transparently graphic that without strong contrary evidence I would be ready to dismiss any allusive explanation as completely fanciful. – Colin Fine Jul 5 '11 at 15:41

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