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Posted by The Fallen on February 25, 2002

In Reply to: To fall between two stools posted by Word Camel on February 25, 2002

: : : How about this phrase? is there another idiom that has the same meaning.
: : : Thanks in advance.

: : "Between two stools one falls to the ground."

: : A donkey between two bundles of hay srarves.
: : A man cannot whistle and drnk at the same time.
: : Doing everything is doing nothing.
: : Grasp all, lose all.
: : He that grasps too much holds nothing.
: : He who hesitates is lost.
: : If you run after two hares you will catch neither.
: : No man can both sip and blow at once.

: I had never heard the full phrase before. When I did, it was used to refer to something that fell between two disciplines or areas of responsibility. "Organising the *cleaning* of Old Street tube? That falls between two stools. London Transport claim it is the council's responsibility and Islington council claims it's just the opposite."

: The original phrase seems subtlety different. It is really more of a caution than a description of a particular situation. Has any one else heard it used the way I described? I just wanted to make sure I haven't been wandering around misinterpreting for years.

: Thanks,
: C

There's nothing wrong with that interpretation of the phrase, but in my opinion it can be less specific than that. To fall between two stools doesn't just mean to slip between two remits of responsibility, it also carries connotations of indecision and consequent over-reaching, thus leading to failure - so for example, someone who tries to keep everybody happy is eventually bound to fall neatly between two stools.

The phrase is therefore always pejorative - except perhaps when used more literally to apply to clumsy but fortunate joggers who stumble while running on one of London's less pleasant commons. Given the amount of irresponsible dog owners that there seems to be these days, in that particular case, falling between two stools would in that specific instance be a godsend.

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