Washington Post (April 28) carried an article under the headline “John Boehner just called Ted Cruz ‘Lucifer in the flesh.’ He does this sometimes,” and the Stanford Daily (April 28) detailed the episode as:

“Segueing into the topic, Kennedy asked Boehner to be frank given that the event was not being broadcasted, and the former Speaker responded in kind. When specifically asked his opinions on Ted Cruz, Boehner made a face, drawing laughter from the crowd.

"Lucifer in the flesh," the former Speaker said. “I have Democrat friends and Republican friends. I get along with almost everyone, but I have never worked with a more miserable son of a bitch . in my life.”

Both Oxford and Cambridge English Dictionary defines “Lucifer” as another name for Satan.

What does “Lucifer in the flesh” used in this specific Boehner’s comment mean ? Does "flesh" here have any sexual connotation?

  • 2
    It means that Boehner doesn't like Cruz.
    – Hot Licks
    Apr 29, 2016 at 18:20
  • 4
    Yoichi - simply, "... in the flesh" is quite simply a strengthener you can throw in just about anywhere in English. (No sexual connotation whatsoever.) It just means "really is". Note that you can use it actually literally: "Honestly, is Paul McCartney coming to your birthday party?!" "In the flesh!" Simply meaning "yes, emphatically". (It is literally a synonym of "literally".) Or you can use it figuratively ... I heard someone saying of an exceptional musician "He's Jimmy Hendrix in the flesh!" (obviously - not literally!)
    – Fattie
    Apr 29, 2016 at 21:18
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    BTW there's another common phrase "He's the devil himself". And as an astute commentator points out below there's "The devil incarnate!" All of these simply mean nothing more than "he is a very bad person, I hate the person!" There is no real religious connotation whatsoever; it's just a "swear word", like "son of a bitch" (no actual connection to dogs whatsoever).
    – Fattie
    Apr 29, 2016 at 21:20
  • 1
    An interesting point is: you'd normally say "the devil in the flesh". (ie, "I hate the person"). The speaker used "Lucifer" to make it a little more emphatic, more "spelled-out". You know? This is a Thing in English, you make a hyperbolic phrase even more hyperbolic by using some more specific versions of the thing in the phrase. So, it's raining cats and dogs becomes *it is actually literally raining doberman-frickin'-pinschers and short-hair persians!" You know?
    – Fattie
    Apr 29, 2016 at 21:33
  • 1
    @JoeBlow: That's ... not true. At all. Apr 29, 2016 at 23:30

4 Answers 4


As you understand, Lucifer means the same thing as Satan, considered in Christianity to be the leader of evil spirits.

The word flesh sometimes has a sexual connotation, but not in this case. Here, it's part of an expression in the flesh, which the Cambridge English Dictionary defines as meaning "physically in ​front of you," with the example sentence "I’ve ​seen her ​perform on ​television, but never in the flesh." It's usually synonymous with the expression "in person."

In this case, since it is applied to an entity that is normally considered a spiritual being, it might also have a more literal meaning: not just "Lucifer, present in person" but "Lucifer in a physical human body." A synonym in this sense would be incarnate: we can say "Lucifer incarnate" to describe a person as evil.

It seems to me to have a strong, but vague meaning: "a very evil/bad/terrible person." I don't think the phrase carries any more specific connotations. In a religious context, the phrase might be used literally, but in most other cases it will just be a hyperbolic insult.

  • 7
    Nitpick/Trivia: Lucifer and Satan are taken to mean the same thing, but they actually have slightly different meanings.
    – Pharap
    Apr 29, 2016 at 7:22
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    There is an analogy here with the Christian doctrine of incarnation, that God took human form as Jesus. 'Devil incarnate' was an insult used by Shakespeare.
    – richardb
    Apr 29, 2016 at 7:57
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    And although idioms can be tricksy, and etymology can also be tricksy, in this case neither of them is playing any tricks, and the reason "in the flesh" and "incarnate" are synonymous is straightforward :-) Apr 29, 2016 at 13:11
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    Yes: it's simply a hyperbolic insult. indeed, it's exactly the same as saying "He is literally Satan!" In English we often use "literally" to mean, not literally, but just "extreme emphasis!" "...in the flesh" is identically used.
    – Fattie
    Apr 29, 2016 at 21:17
  • 2
    I'd say the "Lucifer incarnate" interpretation seems more likely. This is at least the way I (as a native speaker of American English) understood the comment. Either way, you're right that it was obviously intended as a hyperbolic insult and not to imply that Cruz is literally a human incarnation of the Devil.
    – reirab
    Apr 30, 2016 at 6:26

It means he's as evil as The Devil in human form.


To be more specific, (and I think Boehner meant it in this sense):

Cruz's reputation, fair or unfair, is for pride— acting as if he was 'above' others that he was working with.

In the Bible, Lucifer (which is a later Latin name applied to that entity) was expelled from heaven because he placed himself 'above' God.

  • 1
    Hmm... I haven't heard of his reputation as "acting as if he were 'above' others," so much as simply being hard to get along with (specifically in regards to being unwilling to compromise or to choose battles wisely.) Regardless of your party, a prominent 'loose cannon' in your party can really be a thorn in the side of (and an embarrassment to) the party leader. I took that more as being the context of Boehner's comment. The 'Lucifer in the flesh' part just seems more like "I really don't like that guy" than a specific comparison to a particular attribute of Satan.
    – reirab
    Apr 30, 2016 at 6:02
  • Of course Boehner could have meant it in that looser sense, but it's good to know that Cruz intended to 'out-conservative' all the other conservatives in the Senate, so he could claim he was above the usual politics of Washington and run for the presidency.
    – dwilbank
    Apr 30, 2016 at 10:43
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    @dwilbank you can't possibly "know" that; another just as likely interpretation is that he really believes in what he was saying before elections to his constituency, and genuinely kept true to his word. thus becoming a thorn in Boehner's behind, naturally. He looks nerdy enough for that to be actually true.
    – Will Ness
    Apr 30, 2016 at 13:00
  • Either way, his behavior and Boehner's annoyance would be the same.
    – dwilbank
    Apr 30, 2016 at 15:29
  • Nah, it's just a general, non-specific "I hate him" insult.
    – Fattie
    May 2, 2016 at 22:38

Most or all of the community here have made the claim that Lucifer is another name for the devil. That is debatable from a high-theology, strictly originalist textual analysis; in the Christian holy texts, the word name Lucifer is only used once in the Bible, where an ancient Hebrew prophet was labeling the king of an enemy nation, calling him the Morning Star. This was more or less sarcastic, obviously. (See Isaiah 14:12) That particular biblical passage does not state, or even imply, that it is referring to a demiurge or evil mythological being.

But that name eventually became applied to the devil in Christianity (and possibly other religions), and the name stuck. That is in part because other passages associate the devil with celestial/meterological phenomena (Jesus: "I saw Satan fall as lightning from heaven" in Luke 10:18; Paul: "the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience" Ephesians 2:2). John Milton, in his classic Paradise Lost, associated Lucifer with the Serpent in Eden, who enticed the first humans into acquiring first-hand knowledge of good and evil. In this interpretation, the Serpent was, indeed, a Promethean "bearer of light", bringing forbidden knowledge that G-d would have preferred to have been kept concealed.

In any case, it is clear that Boehner intended to call Cruz the devil. What is more significant is that he used the modifier "in the flesh". It is not a sexual phrase; it does not mean "in the nude" or "inside a vagina" or anything similar, although it could certainly appear as such to a non-native English speaker, from a non-Christian background. Indeed, the phrase "in the flesh" has a much more serious connotation.

You see, in the first chapter of the Gospel of John, we are told of "the Word", which simultaneously was "with G-d", and "was G-d" (mind-blowing Trinitarian esoterism). The Word made, or caused, everything that exists; the Word is YHWH. And, the Word (meaning, YWHW himself/itself), who up until that point, had been an invisible, universal cosmic force, decided to become a physical being, with a size, weight, and color. It was at that exact moment in history that Jesus Christ of Nazareth was conceived in the womb of a literal virgin woman two thousand years ago. According to the Gospel, Jesus Christ was "the Word [which] was made flesh" (John 1:14).

A similar concept exists in Mahayana Buddhism; the last of the Four Encompassing Vows made by a Bodhisattva is, "Virtue is inesteemable; I vow to embody it." You see, a Bodhisattva does not promise to be virtuous, or to perform virtuous actions; he promises to become (to become reincarnated as) Virtue itself. He "attains the body of a Buddha" rather than the body of an animal or human being. The Bodhisattva is Virtue, made flesh.

To call somebody "Lucifer" is to call somebody the devil; but that is nothing. That could be simply an exaggeration or metaphor. To call somebody "Lucifer in the flesh" raises the stakes significantly; it suggests that the person is the devil, wholly and completely, having no other qualities apart from it; just as Jesus Christ was literally the physical embodiment of YHWH, the maker of the cosmos; just as the reincarnated Bodhisattva is literally the physical appearance of unconditional virtue itself; just as the consecrated Eucharist is literally transformed into the state-executed remains of YHWH's human avatar.

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