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expression "caught between a rock and a hard place" describes the meaning and origins. I'm looking for a single word that means the same thing.

The answer mentions the word "dilemma". This fits, but to me it would usually just suggest that there is a problem, rather than being in a situation where you need to choose between two bad options. I also found "quandary" and "predicament". I don't think these fit well, either.

Are there any words that work better?

Examples:

This left me between a rock and a hard place.

This left me in a dilemma/predicament/quandary.

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  • You could just say, "This left me stuck."
    – Jim
    Nov 5, 2015 at 0:26
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    To me that would suggest having no options, rather than two bad ones
    – rjdown
    Nov 5, 2015 at 0:27
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    Have a look at the definition of dilemma in a dictionary. It doesn't just mean problem. It means almost exactly what you want the word to mean. google.co.uk/?gws_rd=ssl#q=dilemma+meaning Nov 5, 2015 at 0:27
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    How about some real context? You say, "This left me between a rock and a hard place." What is the 'this'? If we had a real example showing how many choices there were we could give a real answer. Nov 5, 2015 at 0:35
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    @jim I am not convinced. Oxford describes this usage as "widespread and generally acceptable"
    – rjdown
    Nov 5, 2015 at 0:44

9 Answers 9

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Why not a conundrum

A paradoxical, insoluble, or difficult problem; a dilemma: "the conundrum ... of achieving full employment without inflation" (Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.)

American Heritage Dictionary

And while not a single word, the phrase double bind seems to fit

A situation in which a person is confronted with two irreconcilable demands or a choice between two undesirable courses of action.

Oxford Dictionaries Online

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  • I think double bind is going to work best for me. Not one word but good enough, thanks!
    – rjdown
    Nov 7, 2015 at 0:57
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    Both of these don't technically meet the single word requirement of the original question (even though its the approved answer!) because they are nouns. The phrase "stuck between a rock and a hard place" is an adjective. In order to turn "conundrum" into an adjectival phrase, you need to add more words, like "facing a conundrum". Nov 19, 2015 at 11:07
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Another possibility is "conflicted".

to be confused about what choice to make, especially when the decision involves strong beliefs or opinions

Depending on the situation, these might work:

This left me between a rock and a hard place.

This left me in a dilemma.

This left me conflicted.

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Between Scylla and Charybdis is an older form of the same expression. This refers to the straits of Messina between mainland Italy and Sicily, and the term dire straits (although admittedly two words) still sums up the situation quite well.

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  • 2
    I think that's 4 words.
    – Jim
    Nov 5, 2015 at 0:41
  • This was mentioned in the linked question. It is certainly a bit shorter, but I'm really looking for a single word, if one exists!
    – rjdown
    Nov 5, 2015 at 0:42
  • @rjdown "in dire straits" is my best effort answer, because the term doesn't refer to making a choice between two bad alternatives, but the near impossible task of avoiding two bad alternatives Nov 5, 2015 at 0:47
  • @Jim I meant "dire straits" is two words Nov 5, 2015 at 0:48
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    Hmmm, ok, it's buried in your answer with no emphasis. I just saw "Between Scylla and Charybdis"
    – Jim
    Nov 5, 2015 at 0:50
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Using a single word, you may say "I was squeezed".

"To squeeze" means to exert pressure to force someone into a difficult situation.

Example: Small ​businesses are being squeezed by ​heavy ​taxation.

When playing bridge, a squeeze is a strategy that forces the opponent to "choose" what part of his defense he will renounce.

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I'll suggest 'pestled', the verbal adjective (or whichever form of the verb you might have a use for) from 'pestle':

  1. trans. To beat, pound, or grind with or as with a pestle. Also in extended use.
    ...
  2. intr. To use or work with a pestle.

["pestle, v.". OED Online. September 2015. Oxford University Press. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/141773?rskey=e0VuKk&result=5&isAdvanced=false (accessed November 04, 2015).]

Your use, as you example it, would be an "extended use", and perhaps so far extended as to be figurative:

This left me pestled.

Use of this word would suggest the rock and hard place imagery without spelling it out.

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Not a single word but a pretty explicit idiom...

a no-win situation

A no-win situation, also called a lose-lose situation, is one where a person has choices, but no choice leads to a net gain. For example, if an executioner offers the condemned the choice of dying by being hanged, shot, or poisoned, since all choices lead to death, the condemned is in a no-win situation. This bleak situation gives the chooser little room: whatever choice is made, the person making it will lose their life. Less drastic situations might also be considered no-win situations: if one has a choice for lunch between a ham sandwich and a roast beef sandwich, but is a vegetarian or has a wheat allergy, that might be considered a no-win situation. Wikipeida

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    This is a 3-word noun suggestion for a 1-word adjective request... Nov 19, 2015 at 11:08
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It's two words (and it's a noun), but one possible term is "Sophie's choice."

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How about "stymied"?

stymied is a past tense form of stymie: to ​prevent something from ​happening or someone from ​achieving a ​purpose

It's missing the element of there being precisely two equally bad alternatives, but at least it is a single word adjective that describes the situation.

This left me between a rock and a hard place.

This left me in a dilema.

This left me stymied.

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"Horns of a dilemma, faced with two equally undesirable alternatives. In Greek logic a lemma was a premise, a matter taken for granted in an argument, whereas a dilemma (a double lemma) was an either/or proposition. The Romans called this an argumentum cornutum, or “horned argument,” because one could be caught on either horn."

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    Is this a quote from somewhere? If so, where? Jun 18, 2021 at 20:51

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