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Speak of the Devil

Posted by ESC on February 13, 2002

In Reply to: Speak of the Devil posted by Word Camel on February 12, 2002

: : I'm trying to figure out where this term came from. It occurred to me that this is not a very nice thing to say to someone, when your are talking about them. Any ideas

: I remember reading that this term came from a time when it was considered dangerous to speak the name of the devil because he might hear you and decide to make evil things happen to you. I think the full term is "Speak of the Devil and he shall appear."

It is mostly said as a joke today. That is, it's a joke if you say it so the person appearing can hear the comment and he laughs.

SPEAK OF THE DEVIL - "is a very common expression heard when a person who has been under discussion suddenly puts in an appearance. It's an American variation of a British proverb dating back at least to the seventeenth century." R.C. Trench, dean of Westminster, midway through the nineteenth century said, ".Talk of the devil and he is bound to appear contains a very needful warning against curiosity about evil." Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins by William and Mary Morris (HarperCollins, New York, 1977, 1988).

From the archives. Masakim posted:

Talk of the devil, and he is bound to appear. The person who has been talked about secretly is likely to show up unexpectedly. The earliest appearances of the proverb in print were in _Adagia_ by Erasmus (1466-1536) and in Endimio__ by John Lyly (about 1554-1606). In 1666, it appeared in G. Torriano's collection of Italian proverbs and in 1721 in James Kelly's collection of Scottish proverbs. ... _Speak of the devil!_ is a shortened variant used when someone being discussed shows up unexpectedly. ...
From the Random House Dictionary of Popular Proverbs and Sayings by Gregory Y. Titelman
The English say, Talk of the Devil, and he's presently at your elbow. (G. Torriano, _Italian Proverbs, 1666)
Speak of the Dee'l, and he'll appear. Spoken when they, of whom we are speaking, come in by Chance. (J. Kelly, _Scottish Proverbs_, 1721)
"How free he had made with the Devil's name." ... "Talk of the Devil, and he will appear." (R. Graves, _Spiritual Quixote_, 1773)
Speak o' th' devil and behold his horns! (T. Knight, _Turnpike Gate_, 1799)
They are the very men we spoke of -- talk of the devil, and -- humph? (W. Scott, _The Fortunes of Nigel_, 1822)

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