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It is from the song "Hotel California" by the Eagles.

I have a hard time interpreting the meaning of device in this context.

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My English teacher loved that song and explained this line to the class about 8 years ago. Thank you for reminding me! I loved her so much ... –  RiMMER Dec 11 '11 at 14:06
    
@RiMMERΨ It has been my favorite since my English teacher introduced it to the class in grade 7. You might be interested in this author's interpretation of the song: niniane.org –  Terry Li Dec 11 '11 at 15:31

8 Answers 8

up vote 34 down vote accepted

In that line, device means:

2. A project or scheme, often designed to deceive; a stratagem; an artifice. Source: Wiktionary

In other words, the song is saying that we are all prisoners by our own means. We weren't tricked into this situation by anyone else; if we were tricked at all, we tricked ourselves. Our own plan put us where we are.

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Is it the noun form of "devise"? –  Terry Li Dec 10 '11 at 4:05
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+1: Let me note that this is not a new use of the word "device", as some of the other answers seem to imply. From 1836, Google books: "that we are alone saved by the grace of God, for we cannot atone for our sins by any acts of our own device, be they what they may." –  Peter Shor Dec 10 '11 at 11:53
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People didn't have what we call "devices" now back in the day. Whenever humanity discovered something new, it used old words to describe it. That's how "device" (= "means") became "device" (= "small machine"). –  Andrew J. Brehm Dec 10 '11 at 14:51
    
One of the mixed blessings of art is how ambiguous it is. To say that the song either is speaking about physical devices or merely metaphorical schemes is presumptuous. If you look at (for instance) "The Day The Earth Stood Still", it addresses the idea of a galactic society that reached a decision point of putting robotic arbiters in control to keep the peace. They come to Earth with a message that is essentially "join us in the union to which we have committed, or be destroyed". Being prisoners of one's mechanical device is not unheard of en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Dead_Hand –  HostileFork Dec 11 '11 at 20:33

Even if you wanted to take "device" as the modern term for "machine/artifact" the lyric still kind of makes sense.

Because if we were to interpret it as "we are all just prisoners here of our own device (artifact)", it still would sound like we are saying that we are controlling ourselves into that situation. Our device is in us or in our hands or whatever. We imprisoned ourselves with it.

Maybe I am just rambling, but I think either interpretation of the word is correct because either way we imprison ourselves, not forced by another entity.

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As @Tom Au points out, by far the more common phrasing is of our own devising...

enter image description here

...so although the Eagles' lyrics aren't actually incorrect, they're an even more unusual way of introducing what's effectively an archaic usage already (the word device here actually means devising anyway, not the more common modern noun meaning of an artifact/machine). As others point out, by our own devising means through our own thinking (unhelpful preconceptions).

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Thanks for this follow up. –  Terry Li Jan 22 '12 at 0:35

cf. 'Left to one's own devices.'

This is probably the only example of a phrase still in common usage which preserves the older meaning of 'device'. The same meaning applies in the lyric.

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I think it's basically a word mis-spelling/mis-use. The correct statement appears to be, "we are all prisoners of our own devising. I.e., we've all made ourselves our own prisoners.

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This sense of device was the original meaning of device, and has been around since before Shakespeare. It's now been nearly totally replaced by the modern use of device, and devising is used instead nowadays. You might get away with calling it an archaic sense of the word, but it's not actually a mis-use. –  Peter Shor Dec 11 '11 at 4:56

device here is a metaphor for "your own doing". so it means here that we become prisoners by our own thoughts and our own actions... hope that helps!

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As noted in a previous answer, device can mean a "project or scheme ... a stratagem; an artifice," whence a "prisoners by our own means" interpretation.

That general idea is almost certainly correct, and own device is sometimes used that way, but (examining some references from ngrams) one finds that own device is frequently used with its "piece of equipment made for a particular purpose" meaning, while own devising more frequently refers to strategems or plans made by oneself.

In the subject lyrics, the context is

The pink champagne on ice
And she said "We are all just prisoners here, of our own device"

which suggests to me that the Eagles used device rather than devising to get the rhyme with ice.

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Downvoting because I disagree. I've always thought whichever Eagle penned this song was simply using the old turn of phrase one's own device. –  hippietrail Dec 17 '11 at 8:29

I think the definition of device from AHED applies:

device, noun: A contrivance or an invention serving a particular purpose

The line means we are in a prison of our own making; we devised it ourselves.

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Gotta love these anonymous down-votes... –  Gnawme Dec 11 '11 at 0:17
    
+1 for the "we devised it" explanation. –  Kris Dec 11 '11 at 10:13

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