What is the beginning and definition of the expression "caught between a rock and also a tough place"? I likewise heard it in a case where it can have had actually a jocose twin sense, but I may have actually misunderstood.

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The expression is provided when there is a dilemma or only two equally daunting decisions. It can be implied whereby there is a causing obligation to do a choice between at the very least two unpleasant choices.

The origin, according to phrases Dictionary, is acquired from one economic issue where workers confront underpaid wages ( a rock) and unemployment (hard place). The full version the the story deserve to be uncovered in the reference.

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


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JamieJamie
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+1 because that the link, though i don't discover it's reasoning all that convincing.
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According to phrases.org.uk:

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

"To be between a rock and a difficult place, ...to it is in bankrupt. Typical in Arizona in recent panics; sparse in California."

The "recent panics" referred to in that citation are certainly the occasions surrounding the so-called united state Bankers" panic of 1907. This financial crisis was especially damaging to the mining and railroad industries of the western states.

More info on the principle of "between X and also Y" is found on Wiktionary:

Related come the principle of the ancient Greeks: "between Scylla and also Charybdis." <...>

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

Hope this has actually been helpful.


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The Bisbee Deportation, 17 July 1917

The UK website phrases.org offers an originally attractive aetiological narrative because that the expression between a rock and also a hard place/spot v the original definition ‘bankrupt’: the banking dilemm of 1907, i m sorry 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 capital precipitated by the previously banking crisis led come a dispute between copper mining companies and mineworkers in Bisbee, Arizona. The workers, few of whom had actually organized in work unions, approached the company management v a list of needs for better pay and conditions. These were refused and also subsequently countless workers in ~ the Bisbee mines were forcibly exile to new Mexico.

Orchestrated by the Phelps evade Corporation, owner the a number of copper mines in the area, the Bisbee Deportation, 17 July 1917, to be the abduction at gunpoint of about 2,000 striking miners and also others, that were assembled in front of the post office and marched come a baseball ar a mile or so away. Rank and document miners, however not organizers, were available the an option of renouncing the union. Part 700 did so. The remaining 1,286 were immediately forced top top filthy livestock cars — in mid-90° heat — and shipped off to Tres Hermanas NM, 200 miles and 16 hours away, on the mexico border.

Now the suggestion that a mining firm that could arrange a posse that 2000, furnish few of them with an equipment guns, and also hire 23 El Paso and Southwestern livestock cars ~ above a moment’s notification is somehow enduring from a ns of capital since of a financial dilemm ten years before 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 men to surrounding Columbus and housing lock in tents initially intended because that Mexican nationals fleeing Pancho Villa. Return an end day in mid-September was planned, plenty of of the forced deportees were still in the camp in October 1917, when they petitioned the federal government for help to return to their homes.

“Somewhere in France,” 9 Nov. 1918

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

A farmer indigenous Mountainair NM, 100 kilometres SSE the Albuquerque (1920 pop. 577), Sgt. Jason “Bud” C. Williams composed a letter come his family dated 9 Nov. 1918 from “somewhere in France,” the pass out location forced by military censors. The letter to be then published in the neighborhood newspaper the adhering to month:

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

Kaiser Wilhelm II, who had abdicated that an extremely day, apparently decided he desired breathing and also went right into self-exile in the Netherlands. The armistice finishing the war was signed just two days later.

So when can Sgt. Williams have actually heard the expression, offered it himself, in ~ the same time transforming its definition from bankruptcy come what the generally way today: trapped v either no alternatives or only negative ones?

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

If the scenario concocted by Phrases.org is accurate, then among the destitute miners, at some time after Sept.–Oct. 1917, make his way north native Columbus NM to a tiny farming neighborhood square in the middle of the state, whereby Williams heard the expression in the eight months or so before he left because that Texas.

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

The Logic

I have always considered the expression humorous since hard place is essentially a hypernym of rock; the is, in its an interpretation as ‘dilemma’, one must choose between a rock and something else pretty much like an additional rock. The expression be in a difficult spot and also be in a difficult place both predate your joining through rock:

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

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

By adding the rock, the later on expression revitalizes the metaphor in hard and also gives friend two difficult spots/places because that the price that one.

There was a mrs he had actually with us, and also she gained away. The ind must have helped her, and also they reduced the leg behind her, and also next morning the whole outfit walk a bunk. After that us were between a rock and a tough place. — man Buchan, The court of the Morning (1929), serialized in The West Australian (Perth), 12 Apr. 1930.

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

Because I discover myself in between a rock and also a tough place, through a lawyer on every side, since I to be a so-called lawmaker, and based ~ above the mail I have actually been receiving I perform not think i am a very good one, let me gain this straight. — Thurston Ballard Morton (R-KY), “Union Democracy,” residence of Representatives, special Subcommittee on Education and Labor, 2 June 1949.

Harding did many of the talking, and also told the rather that eastern Texas “had him in between a rock and a tough place,” due to the fact that he could not walk to work for a big company without revealing where he had last worked. — Decisions and Orders the the nationwide Labor connections Board 143 (6/22–8/15, 1963), Decision date: 28 June 1963, 436.

The very first example is a real puzzler. As far as I have the right to determine, Scottish novelist and also military man John Buchan, later 1st Baron Tweedsmuir, never travelled to phibìc America till he was made Governor general of Canada in 1935. The character speaking, the fairly unsavory Daniel Judson, combines the quintessentially brother do a bunk with the American rock and also hard place. Buchan just writes that Judson “passed for an Australian” through the leader of a fictional southern American nation where the adventure novel is set. One presume then the Buchan expects his readers to check out him together an American. Yet where did Buchan hear about rocks and also hard places?

Contrary come the delinquent at Phrases.com that the expression “frequently” showed up 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 vault decade, just 9 hits, 4 that which room from Texas. This fixed qualifies together “frequent.” A Google publications N-Gram flatlines until around 1965, when intake skyrockets towards the end of the century.

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