- Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea
"Between the devil and the deep blue sea" is an idiom meaning a dilemma—i.e., 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 seam (where two hull planks meet) that is difficult to reach on a ship. More specifically, it may have been a reference to being a member of the "lower deck" or crew of a sailing ship in the English Navy. Such sailors were often pressed into service unwillingly; one who was "between the devil and the deep blue sea" would literally be beneath the upper deck (officer territory)--thus a member of the crew.
In wooden ships, the "devil" was the longest seam of the ship. It ran from the bow to the stern. When at sea and the devil had to be caulked, the sailor sat in a bosun's chair to do so. He was suspended between the devil and the sea—the "deep"—a very precarious position, especially when the ship was underway.
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 caulking. 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.
However, this nautical definition is unlikely. This is because the first recorded citation of 'the Devil and the deep sea' in print is in Robert Monro's His expedition with the worthy Scots regiment called Mac-keyes, 1637: "I, with my partie, did lie on our poste, as betwixt the devill and the deep sea." Because the nautical use of the word "devil" as mentioned above cannot be confirmed until more than two centuries later, the nautical origin seems improbable.
"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.
"Between the Devil..." was originally recorded by Cab Calloway in 1931. It is now considered a standard, with recordings by many artists, such as George Harrison. The Boswell Sisters recorded the song with The Dorsey Brothers in 1932. Frank Sinatra also recorded the song in 1959. Ella Fitzgerald recorded it for her 1961 Verve album Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Harold Arlen Songbook. Thelonious Monk plays it on his 1967 album, Straight, No Chaser.
The Italian black metal band Aborym also named a song "Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea" on the album "Generator", and Brendan Perry has a song named "The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea" on his 2010 album Ark.
The phrase also pops up in the Billy Bragg song "The Short Answer" from his 1988 album Workers Playtime, and in Van Morrison's Stranded, from his 2005 album Magic Time. And in Bad Religion's "Heaven is Falling" from their 1992 album Generator. It is also referenced in the songs "Love Song For A Witch" by Dog Fashion Disco on their Committed To A Bright Future album from 2003, "The Other Side" by Aerosmith, "Living Proof" by Wishbone Ash and Return Of The Fisherman by ex-The Stone Roses frontman Ian Brown, The Police also use the phrase in "Wrapped Around Your Finger" from their Synchronicity album. The phrase is also referenced in the song Looking As You Are by Embrace, in the line "I told the devil and the deep blue sea to hide". The line also appears in the chorus of "A Rock and a Hard Place" by The Sisters of Mercy on their album First and Last and Always The term is also used in "Open Water" by Thrice from their album The Alchemy Index: Vol. 2- Water. The Living End have a line with this phrase in their self-titled song.
Sydney, Australia band XL Capris used the expression in their song AMP from the album Weeds (1981).
The Bee Gees also used the phrase 'between the devil and the deep blue sea' in their song 'For whom the bell tolls'.
The Killers used the term in their song "Spaceman" from their 2008 release Day & Age
The band Black Stone Cherry released their 3rd studio album called 'Between The Devil & The Deep Blue Sea' in May 2011.
The Japanese funeral doom band Aeternum Sacris has a song "Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea" on the demo "(11-03-2011)" about 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami in Japan. The song is dedicated "to all those animals abandoned in Fukishima and the human angels who try to rescue them".
Gram Parsons references the phrase in his song "Return of the Grievous Angel," with the line "I saw my devil, and I saw my deep blue sea."
FilmMain article: Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea (film)
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.
The Deep Blue Sea (2011) by Terence Davies, is a film based on the play by Terence Rattigan, starring Rachel Weisz, Tom Hiddleston and Simon Russell Beale.
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.
The Devil and the Deep Sea is the title of a short story written by Rudyard Kipling in 1898.
The Deep Blue Sea (1952) by Terence Rattigan, takes its title from this phrase.
This Phrase was featured on the 1st episode of the 18th series of the Emmy-award winning hit-reality show The Amazing Race, which teams did the deciphering roadblock task to get the clue with the phrase deciphered.
- English idioms
- Pop standards
- Songs with music by Harold Arlen
- Songs with lyrics by Ted Koehler
- 1932 songs
- Cab Calloway songs
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