caught between a rock and a hard place

Where is this expression coming from? I understood the meaning but, for me, literal translation doesn't make sense. Can you give me some image?

  • The first search result I got when searching for "caught between a rock and a hard place" was "Idiom: Between a rock and a hard place: If you are caught between a rock and a hard place, you are in a position where you have to choose between unpleasant alternatives, and your choice might cause you problems; you will not be able to satisfy everyone." at usingenglish.com/reference/idioms/…. We expect people asking questions to have done at least some basic research themselves before posting questions here: we are not a search engine for you!
    – TrevorD
    May 4, 2016 at 10:32
  • 1
    @TrevorD, Hide is not asking about the meaning, but about the origin.
    – Colin Fine
    May 4, 2016 at 10:48
  • OK - but he still shows no research! And the 5th result in my search was english.stackexchange.com/questions/32785/… - so I'm voting to close this as a duplicate.
    – TrevorD
    May 4, 2016 at 10:52
  • I suspect that the origin may actually go back to the case of a wood-wheeled wagon where the wheel has fallen down into a depression along side a rock. This analogy would have been familiar to folks 100 years ago.
    – Hot Licks
    May 4, 2016 at 11:46

3 Answers 3


I have no evidence for this, but I think the point is that a rock is a hard place. So it's like

six of one and half a dozen of the other,

but in a negative sense.

  • +1 Hard place is a euphemism for rock and the phrase is a bit wry.
    – bib
    May 4, 2016 at 12:17

Just imagine that you have a huge rock on one side and a brick wall on the other. WHichever direction you go in you'll hit something which causes you pain. That's the best literal transalation I can give. Hope it helps :)


It means a dilemma in which you have two choices to proceed, neither of them being favorable in the circumstances given.

To give you an Image:

enter image description here

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