Where did the phrase “between the devil and the deep blue sea” originate, and what does it mean?
First seen in print in 1621, this phrase has a nautical origin. The “devil” referred to one of two seams that ran the length of a ship’s wooden deck. One was on the inside, closest to the ship’s railing, and the other was on the outside, near the waterline of the ship’s hull. Those seams, like the rest of the ship’s planked deck and frame, had to be regularly caulked to prevent leaks. In high seas, this job could be fatal, with sailors in dire peril of being washed overboard. Being “the devil to caulk,” the seams thus earned their nickname. The choice “between the devil and the deep blue sea” soon came to mean a choice between two undesirable consequences.