What is the origin and an interpretation of the expression "caught in between a rock and a tough place"? I likewise heard that in a case where it can have had actually a jocose twin sense, however I may have actually misunderstood.

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The expression is offered when there is a dilemma or just two equally complicated decisions. It have the right to be implied where there is a obligated to do a an option between at the very least two unpleasant choices.

The origin, follow to unit volume Dictionary, is derived from one economic problem where workers face underpaid wages ( a rock) and also unemployment (hard place). The complete version that the story can be discovered in the reference.

Other beginning worths stated is the Greek mythology "Between Scylla and also 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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reply Jul 4 "11 at 19:18

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+1 because that the link, though ns don't discover it's thinking all that convincing.
Jul 5 "11 at 0:39
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According come phrases.org.uk:

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

"To be in between a rock and a hard place, ...to be bankrupt. Common in Arizona in recent panics; sparse in California."

The "recent panics" described in that citation are without doubt the occasions surrounding the so-called us Bankers" scare of 1907. This financial crisis was particularly damaging come the mining and also railroad sectors of the western states.

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

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

I as such highly doubt it has actually much to do with the bible, however I need to confess ns haven"t checked.

Hope this has actually been helpful.

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edited Jun 15 "20 in ~ 7:40

answered Dec 15 "18 at 20:54

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The Bisbee Deportation, 17 July 1917

The UK website phrases.org supplies an originally attractive aetiological narrative because that the expression between a rock and also a difficult place/spot v the original meaning ‘bankrupt’: the banking situation of 1907, i beg your pardon 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 absence of funding precipitated by the earlier banking dilemm led to a dispute between copper mining companies and also mineworkers in Bisbee, Arizona. The workers, some of whom had actually organized in work unions, approached the company management with a list of requirements for much better pay and also conditions. These were refused and also subsequently plenty of workers in ~ the Bisbee mines to be forcibly exile to new Mexico.

Orchestrated by the Phelps dodge Corporation, owner that a variety of copper mines in the area, the Bisbee Deportation, 17 July 1917, to be the abduction at gunpoint of around 2,000 highlight miners and others, who were assembled in former of the write-up office and marched come a baseball ar a mile or for this reason away. Rank and file miners, but not organizers, were available the choice of renouncing the union. Part 700 go so. The remaining 1,286 were automatically forced onto filthy cattle cars — in mid-90° warm — and also shipped off to Tres Hermanas NM, 200 miles and 16 hours away, top top the mexican border.

Now the ide that a mining firm that might arrange a posse that 2000, furnish several of them with machine guns, and also hire 23 El Paso and Southwestern livestock cars ~ above a moment’s notice is somehow enduring from a loss of capital since of a financial dilemm ten years before borders on the absurd. This, however, is exactly how Phrases.org desires to get from bankrupt to Bisbee.

Though hardly sympathetic to the miners’ cause, the federal federal government intervened, moving the men to adjacent Columbus and also housing them in tents originally intended for Mexican nationals fleeing Pancho Villa. Although an end date in mid-September to be planned, numerous of the compelled deportees to be still in the camp in October 1917, once they petitioned the federal government for help to return to their homes.

“Somewhere in France,” 9 Nov. 1918

If this miners, mainly destitute and with only their apparel on their backs, to be the resource of the expression, then between a rock and a hard place to be on a chop schedule to reach various other American speakers, also one in the exact same state.

A farmer indigenous Mountainair NM, 100 km SSE of Albuquerque (1920 pop. 577), Sgt. Jason “Bud” C. Williams created a letter come his family dated 9 Nov. 1918 native “somewhere in France,” the vague location required by military censors. The letter was then published in the regional newspaper the following month:

Seeing native the papers, that we have actually the main Power bunch between a rock and also a difficult place, i am afraid that the hard place will get harder 보다 the rock if Fritz don’t wake up and also get out while he is yet breathing. — The Mountainair Independent (NM), 19 Dec. 1918.

Kaiser Wilhelm II, who had abdicated that very day, apparently made decision he preferred breathing and also went right into self-exile in the Netherlands. The armistice finishing the war was signed simply two days later.

So when might Sgt. Williams have heard the expression, provided it himself, at the exact same time an altering its definition from bankruptcy come what that generally method today: trapped through either no choices or only poor ones?

Writing from Camp Mabry, Austin TX, top top 10 June 1918, Williams and 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 to eat” castle had provided them for your rail trip to Texas.

If the scenario concocted by Phrases.org is accurate, then one of the destitute miners, at some point after Sept.–Oct. 1917, made his means north indigenous Columbus NM to a tiny farming neighborhood square in the middle of the state, wherein Williams heard the expression in the eight months or so before he left for Texas.

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

The Logic

I have constantly considered the expression humorous because hard place is essentially a hypernym that rock; that is, in its definition as ‘dilemma’, one have to choose between a rock and also something rather pretty lot like one more rock. The expressions be in a tough spot and be in a hard place both predate their joining with rock:

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

When below on Tuesday i remarked come him that he was in a tough place, and he replied that he would quite be hung, if he could see his wife. — Daily Dispatch (Richmond VA), 8 Sept. 1853.

By including the rock, the later expression revitalizes the an allegory in hard and also gives girlfriend two difficult spots/places because that the price the one.

There was a woman he had actually with us, and she acquired away. The ind must have helped her, and they reduced the leg behind her, and also next morning the totality outfit go a bunk. ~ that us were between a rock and a difficult place. — john Buchan, The courts of the Morning (1929), serialized in The West Australian (Perth), 12 Apr. 1930.

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

Because I find myself between a rock and also a tough place, with a lawyer on each side, since I to be a so-called lawmaker, and also based on the letter I have been receiving I do not think i am a very good one, permit me gain this straight. — Thurston Ballard Morton (R-KY), “Union Democracy,” home of Representatives, special Subcommittee on Education and also Labor, 2 June 1949.

Harding did most of the talking, and told the rather that east Texas “had him in between a rock and a tough place,” due to the fact that he could not walk to work-related for a big company there is no revealing whereby he had actually last worked. — Decisions and also Orders of the nationwide Labor relations Board 143 (6/22–8/15, 1963), Decision date: 28 June 1963, 436.

The an initial example is a actual puzzler. As far as I deserve to determine, Scottish novelist and also military guy John Buchan, later 1st Baron Tweedsmuir, never travelled to north America until he was made Governor basic of Canada in 1935. The character speaking, the fairly unsavory Daniel Judson, combines the quintessentially british do a bunk v the American rock and also hard place. Buchan just writes the Judson “passed for an Australian” with the leader of a fictional south American nation where the adventure novel is set. One assumes then that Buchan expects his readers to watch him as an American. But where go Buchan hear around rocks and hard places?

Contrary come the assertion at Phrases.com the the expression “frequently” appeared in American records in the late 30s, a query in ~ newspapers.com yielded just 22 hits because that the decade, 13 from Texas. For the previous decade, just 9 hits, 4 of which room from Texas. This fixed qualifies together “frequent.” A Google publications N-Gram flatlines until around 1965, when usage skyrockets toward the finish of the century.

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Barring some random encounter with an American admirer, the many logical theory is that Buchan remembered hearing that from American soldiers choose Sgt. Williams during the war and also placed it in the mouth of one of his characters in The court of the Morning as something his british readers would certainly imagine is an Americanism. His American readers, in ~ least any kind of he had actually in Texas, would certainly wonder what the hell do a bunk meant.