What is the origin and meaning of the expression "caught between a rock and also a hard place"? I also heard it in a case where it can have had actually a jocose double sense, however I may have actually misunderstood.

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The expression is offered when over there is a dilemma or only two equally challenging decisions. It can be implied whereby there is a mandatory to do a an option between at least two uncomfortable choices.

The origin, according to paragraph Dictionary, is acquired from one economic concern where workers challenge underpaid salaries ( a rock) and also unemployment (hard place). The full version that the story deserve to be uncovered in the reference.

Other beginning worths discussed is the Greek mythology "Between Scylla and Charybdis", where Odysseus needs to take a route in between six-headed monster Scylla and the whirlpool Charybdis. For more reading on Wikipedia.


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answered Jul 4 "11 in ~ 19:18
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JamieJamie
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+1 because that the link, though ns don't uncover it's thinking all that convincing.
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Jul 5 "11 at 0:39
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According to phrases.org.uk:

The earliest known printed quote of "between a rock and also a difficult place" is in the American language Society"s publication language Notes V, 1921:

"To be in between a rock and also a difficult place, ...to be bankrupt. Usual in Arizona in current panics; thin in California."

The "recent panics" referred to in the citation are without doubt the events surrounding the so-called us Bankers" scare of 1907. This financial crisis was particularly damaging to the mining and also railroad industries of the west states.

More information on the concept of "between X and also Y" is uncovered on Wiktionary:

Related to the ide of the old Greeks: "between Scylla and Charybdis." <...>

I thus highly doubt it has actually much to do with the bible, but I should confess ns haven"t checked.

Hope this has actually been helpful.


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answered Dec 15 "18 at 20:54
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The Bisbee Deportation, 17 July 1917

The UK website phrases.org provides an at first attractive aetiological narrative because that the expression between a rock and a hard place/spot with the original definition ‘bankrupt’: the banking situation of 1907, which is tied come a comment in Dialect Notes vol. 5 (1921) the the expression to be “common in Arizona in current panics.”

In 1917 the lack of funding precipitated by the earlier banking crisis led come a dispute in between copper mining companies and mineworkers in Bisbee, Arizona. The workers, few of whom had actually organized in work unions, approached the company management through a list of needs for better pay and also conditions. These to be refused and subsequently countless workers in ~ the Bisbee mines to be forcibly exile to brand-new Mexico.

Orchestrated by the Phelps evade Corporation, owner that a number of copper mines in the area, the Bisbee Deportation, 17 July 1917, to be the abduction in ~ gunpoint of roughly 2,000 to mark miners and also others, that were assembled in prior of the write-up office and also marched to a baseball ar a mile or therefore away. Location and record miners, however not organizers, were offered the an option of renouncing the union. Part 700 walk so. The continuing to be 1,286 were automatically forced top top filthy cattle cars — in mid-90° heat — and also shipped off to Tres Hermanas NM, 200 miles and 16 hrs away, on the mexican border.

Now the suggestion that a mining agency that might arrange a posse the 2000, furnish few of them with machine guns, and hire 23 El Paso and also Southwestern livestock cars top top a moment’s notification is somehow suffering from a ns of capital since of a financial crisis ten years prior to borders ~ above the absurd. This, however, is how Phrases.org wants to get from bankrupt come Bisbee.

Though fixed sympathetic come the miners’ cause, the federal federal government intervened, moving the guys to nearby Columbus and housing lock in tents originally intended for Mexican nationals fleeing Pancho Villa. Although an end date in mid-September to be planned, numerous of the forced deportees were still in the camp in October 1917, once they petitioned the federal federal government for assistance to return to their homes.

“Somewhere in France,” 9 Nov. 1918

If these miners, mostly destitute and with only their garments on your backs, to be the source of the expression, then between a rock and a tough place was on a tight schedule come reach other American speakers, also one in the very same state.

A farmer indigenous Mountainair NM, 100 kilometres SSE the Albuquerque (1920 pop. 577), Sgt. Jason “Bud” C. Williams wrote a letter to his household dated 9 Nov. 1918 indigenous “somewhere in France,” the vague location required by army censors. The letter was then published in the regional newspaper the adhering to month:

Seeing indigenous the papers, that we have the central Power bunch in between a rock and also a hard place, i am afraid that the hard place will gain harder than the rock if Fritz don’t wake up up and also get out while he is however breathing. — The Mountainair Independent (NM), 19 Dec. 1918.

Kaiser Wilhelm II, who had actually abdicated that very day, apparently determined he wanted breathing and went into self-exile in the Netherlands. The armistice ending the battle was signed simply two job later.

So when can Sgt. Williams have heard the expression, offered it himself, at the exact same time transforming its meaning from bankruptcy to what that generally means today: trapped v either no choices or only negative ones?

Writing indigenous Camp Mabry, Austin TX, top top 10 June 1918, Williams and also eight various other enlistees thanked the town of Estancias NM for the quite send-off and also especially the women of the Red Cross for the “many good smokes and good things come eat” castle had offered them for your rail journey to Texas.

If the script concocted by Phrases.org is accurate, then among the destitute miners, at some point after Sept.–Oct. 1917, do his way north from Columbus NM come a tiny farming community square in the middle of the state, whereby Williams heard the expression in the eight month or so prior to he left for Texas.

I would suggest instead that neither Sgt. Williams nor his hypothetical miner to be responsible for the expression, yet that it was already component of the soldier’s idiolect before his enlistment. A provenance in beforehand 20th c. America, likely in the Southwest, is more than likely as close together we can get. As for the ascription in Dialect Notes of ‘bankruptcy’: bankrupt businesses and also private persons may well have actually been in between a rock and a difficult place in 1921, but not all for this reason metaphorically located were bankrupt, Kaiser Fritz included.

The Logic

I have always considered the expression humorous due to the fact that hard place is essentially a hypernym the rock; that is, in its meaning as ‘dilemma’, one must choose between a rock and something rather pretty much like an additional rock. The expression be in a difficult spot and also be in a hard place both predate their joining with rock:

On analyzing the ar of labor, i soon discovered myself in a tough spot. — The home Missionary 14/3 (July 1841), 56.

When right here on Tuesday ns remarked to him the he remained in a tough place, and he replied that he would rather be hung, if he could see his wife. — Daily Dispatch (Richmond VA), 8 Sept. 1853.

By including the rock, the later on expression revitalizes the metaphor in hard and also gives girlfriend two tough spots/places because that the price the one.

There was a mrs he had with us, and she acquired away. The indians must have helped her, and also they cut the bridge behind her, and also next morning the whole outfit go a bunk. After ~ that we were between a rock and also a hard place. — john Buchan, The court of the Morning (1929), serialized in The West Australian (Perth), 12 Apr. 1930.

“And then where space you? Well, you"re right behind the eight ball, or in between a rock and also a difficult spot.” — Quote, Branch Rickey, coach, St. Luigi Cardinals, b. Stockdale OH, The daily Independent (Elizabeth City NC), 10 Mar. 1937.

Because I discover myself between a rock and also a hard place, with a lawyer on each side, because I am a so-called lawmaker, and also based top top the letter I have been receiving I do not think i am a very good one, let me obtain this straight. — Thurston Ballard Morton (R-KY), “Union Democracy,” house of Representatives, one-of-a-kind Subcommittee on Education and also Labor, 2 June 1949.

Harding did many of the talking, and told the rather that eastern Texas “had him in between a rock and also a difficult place,” since he might not go to work-related for a big company without revealing where he had actually last worked. — Decisions and also Orders that the national Labor relations Board 143 (6/22–8/15, 1963), Decision date: 28 June 1963, 436.

The an initial example is a real puzzler. As much as I have the right to determine, Scottish novelist and military male John Buchan, later 1st Baron Tweedsmuir, never travelled to north America until he was made Governor general of Canada in 1935. The personality speaking, the rather unsavory Daniel Judson, combine the quintessentially british do a bunk v the American rock and hard place. Buchan just writes the Judson “passed for an Australian” v the leader of a fictional southern American country where the adventure novel is set. One suspect then the Buchan expects his reader to check out him as an American. Yet where go Buchan hear around rocks and hard places?

Contrary to the delinquent at Phrases.com the the expression “frequently” appeared in American records in the late 30s, a query in ~ newspapers.com yielded just 22 hits for the decade, 13 native Texas. Because that the previous decade, just 9 hits, 4 that which are from Texas. This hardly qualifies together “frequent.” A Google publications N-Gram flatlines until about 1965, when intake skyrockets towards the end of the century.

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Barring part random encounter v an American admirer, the most logical theory is that Buchan mental hearing the from American soldiers choose Sgt. Williams throughout the war and placed it in the mouth of one of his characters in The court of the Morning as something his brother readers would imagine is one Americanism. His American readers, in ~ least any type of he had in Texas, would wonder what the hell do a bunk meant.