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Your English: Idioms: devil

Type: Article

Go on, be a devil and take a look at Tim Bowen’s devilish article on idioms.

‘In having to choose between tax rises and benefit cuts, voters find themselves between the devil and the deep blue sea’. If you find yourself in this unpalatable situation, you are faced with having to choose between two equally unpleasant things. The expression between a rock and a hard place can also be used. 

If you play devil’s advocate, you take a deliberately provocative position in an argument in order to promote the discussion, as in ‘He doesn’t really believe in capital punishment, you know. He’s just playing devil’s advocate’. 

Should you have a devil of a job doing something, you find it very difficult or even unpleasant, as in ‘I had a devil of a job convincing him to go back and apologise for what he’d done’. 

The expression be a devil (usually preceded by the phrasal verb go on) can be used if you are encouraging people to do something, usually something not particularly serious, when they are not sure if they should do it, as in ‘Go on. Be a devil. Have another slice of chocolate cake’. 

If you are in a situation where it is safer to deal with a bad but familiar person or thing rather than to risk dealing with someone or something that you do not know and could turn out to be worse, the expression better the devil you know can be used, as in ‘I’m not sure whether to buy my usual bottle of wine or try this new one. But, in the end, I guess better the devil you know’. 

People who have a devil-may-care attitude are relaxed and happy and have a tendency to take risks and not worry about the future. Such a person can also be described as a dare devil.

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