devil and deep blue sea

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

"Between the devil and the deep blue sea" is an idiom meaning to choose between two undesirable situations (equivalent to "between a rock and a hard place").

Its original meaning may be that of a nautical reference citing the deep blue sea and a "devil"- a piece of wood or joint that is difficult to reach on a ship.

According to the "International Maritime Dictionary" by René de Kerchove, the devil is 1. The seam in a wooden deck which bounds the waterway. It is so-called from its difficulty of access in calking. 2. A seam in the planking of a wooden ship on or below the waterline.

If sailors fell from a footrope under a yardarm, they would either land on the deck (within the devil plank) or in the water (outside of the devil plank). Either option is likely fatal.


"Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea" is an American popular song published in 1932. The music was written by Harold Arlen, the lyrics by Ted Koehler. It was originally recorded by Cab Calloway.

It is now considered a standard, with recordings by many artists, like George Harrison. Frank Sinatra also recorded the song in 1959.


Between The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea is also the title of a 1995 film starring Stephen Rea and based on the novel Li by Nikos Kavadias. It was produced and directed by Marion Hänsel.


Between The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea: Merchant Seamen, Pirates and the Anglo-American Maritime World, 1700 - 1750 is the title of a book by Marcus Rediker, a radical labour historian and professor at the University of Pittsburgh. It was released in 1987 on Cambridge University Press.

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