Between the Devil and the deep blue sea
Posted by Mikko on July 29, 2005
: : What does the phrase "Between the Devil and the deep blue sea" mean? It shows up in songs of all generations, and many other place... what is the origin?
: It's a nautical term. You can access previous discussions by search the archives -- "devil blue sea." Or go to www.phrases.org.uk bulletin_board 7 messages 262.html
: One reference says:
: BETWEEN THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA - "Between equally dangerous options. The expression is of nautical origin where 'the devil' means the seam on a ship's deck nearest its side. Hence, anyone who found himself between the devil and the waterline of a ship or the deep blue sea had a very narrow margin for choice." From Random House Dictionary of Popular Proverbs and Sayings by Gregory Y. Titelman (Random House, New York, 1996). Page 29.
Some think that this expression has it's origins in Scylla and Charybdis of the Odyssey. "Between Scylla and Charybdis" means to be balancing between to equally big dangers.
These mythical sea-creatures dwelled on two sides of a narrow strait, through which Odysseus had to sail his ship. Scylla was a six-headed monster, Charybdis sucked all the water inside her 3 times day and then vomited it back. Sailing past Charybdis at the wrong time could have drowned the whole vessel, so Odysseus navigated past Scylla, who killed 6 of his men.
There's surely some likeness to the phrase "between the devil and the deep blue sea", but this might as well be just a later interpretation.