Brewer's: Devil

Represented with a cloven foot, because by the Rabbinical writers he is called seirissim (a goat). As the goat is a type of uncleanness, the prince of unclean spirits is aptly represented under this emblem.

Devil among the Tailors

(The). On Dowton's benefit at the Haymarket, some 7,000 journeymen tailors congregated in and around the theatre to prevent a burlesque called The Tailors: a Tragedy for Warm Weather, which they considered insulting to the trade. Fairburn's edition of this play is headed The Devil among the Tailors, and contains an account of this fracas. (See also Biographia Dramatica, article TAILORS.) There is a Scotch reel so called.

Devil and Bag o'Nails

(The). The public-house by Buckingham Gate was so called, but the sign was The Blackamoor's Head and the Woolpack. (Remarkable Trials, ii. p. 14; 1765.)

Devil and Dr. Faustus

(The). Faust was the first printer of Bibles, and issued a large number in imitation of those sold as manuscripts. These he passed off in Paris as genuine, and sold for sixty crowns apiece, the usual price being five hundred crowns. The uniformity of the books, their rapid supply, and their unusual cheapness excited astonishment. Information was laid against him for magic, and, in searching his lodgings, the brilliant red ink with which his copies were adorned was declared to be his blood. He was charged with dealings with the Devil, and condemned to be burnt alive. To save himself, he revealed his secret to the Paris Parlement, and his invention became the admiration of the world. N.B.—This tradition is not to be accepted as history.

Devil and his Dam

(The). Either the Devil and his mother, or the Devil and his wife. Numerous quotations may be adduced in support of either of these interpretations. Shakespeare uses the phrase six times, and in King John (ii. 1) dam evidently means mother; thus Constance says that her son Arthur is as like his father as the Devil is like his dam (mother); and in Titus Andronicus Tamora is called the “dam” of a black child. We also read of the Devil's daughter and the Devil's son.

In many mythologies the Devil is supposed to be an animal: Thus in Cazotte's Diable Amoureux he is a camel; the Irish and others call him a black cat; the Jews speak of him as a dragon (which idea is carried out in our George and the Dragon); the Santons of Japan call him a species of fox; others say he is a goat; and Dante associates him with dragons, swine, and dogs. In all which cases dam for mother is not inappropriate. On the other hand, dam for leman or wife has good support. We are told that Lilith was the wife of Adam, but was such a vixen that Adam could not live with her, and she became the Devil's dam. We also read that Belphegor “came to earth to seek him out a dam.”

As women when they go wrong are for the most part worse than the other sex, the phrase at the head of this article means the Devil and something worse.

Devil and the Deep Sea

(Between the). Between Scylla and Charybdis; between two evils, each equally hazardous. The allusion seems to be to the herd of swine and the devils called Legion.

“In the matter of passing from one part of the vessel to another when she was rolling, we were indeed between the devil and the deep sea.” — Nineteenth Century, April, 1891, p.664.

Devil and Tom Walker

(The). An American proverb, used as a caution to usurers. Tom Walker was a poor, miserly man, born at Massachusetts in 1727, and it is said that he sold himself to the Devil for wealth. Be this as it may, Tom suddenly became very rich, and opened a counting-house at Boston during the money panic which prevailed in the time of Governor Belcher. By usury he grew richer and richer; but one day, as he was foreclosing a mortgage with a poor land-jobber, a black man on a black horse knocked at the office door. Tom went to open it, and was never seen again. Of course the good people of Boston searched his office, but all his coffers were found empty; and during the night his house caught fire and was burnt to the ground.

(Washington Irving: Tales of a Traveller.)

Devil catch the Hindmost

(The). In Scotland (? Salamanca) it is said when a class of students have made a certain progress in their mystic studies, they are obliged to run through a subterranean hall, and the last man is seized by the devil, and becomes his imp.

Devil in Dublin City

(The). The Scandinavian form of Dublin was Divel-in[a], and the Latin Dublinia. (See Notes and Queries, April 9th, 1881, p. 296, for another explanation.)

Is just as true's the deil's in hell Or Dublin city.

Burns: Death and Dr. Hornbook.

Devil looking Over Lincoln

(The). Sir W. Scott in his Kenilworth has, “Like the Devil looking over Lincoln.” A correspondent of Notes and Queries, September 10th, 1892, says—

“The famous devil that used to overlook Lincoln College, in Oxford, was taken down (Wednesday, September 15th, 1731), having about two years since [previously] lost his head in a storm.” —Gentleman's Magazine, 1831, p. 402.

We have other similar phrases, as “The devil looking over Durham.”

Devil loves Holy Water

(As the). That is, not at all. The Roman Catholics teach that holy water drives away the Devil. The Latin proverb is, “Sicut sus amaricinum amat” (as swine love marjoram). Lucretius, vi. 974, says “amaricinum fugitat sus.”


(A). A reckless fellow.

Devil must be Striking

(The) (German). Said when it thunders. The old Norse Donar means Thor, equal to Jupiter, the god of thunder, and donner is the German for thunder or Devil, as may be seen in the expression, “The runaway goose is gone to the Devil” (donner).

Devil on the Neck

(A). An instrument of torture used by persecuting papists. It was an iron winch which forced a man's neck and legs together.

Devil rides on a Fiddlestick

(The). Much ado about nothing. Beaumont and Fletcher, Shakespeare, and others, use the phrase. “Fiddlesticks!” as an exclamation, means rubbish! nonsense! When the prince and his merry companions are at the Boar's Head, first Bardolph rushes in to warn them that the sheriff's officers are at hand, and anon enters the hostess to put her guests on their guard. But the prince says, “Here's a devil of a row to make about a trifle” (or “The devil rides on a fiddlestick”) (1 Henry IV., ii. 2), and hiding some of his companions, he stoutly faces the sheriff's officers and browbeats them.

Devil Sick would be a Monk

(The). “Dæmon languebat, monachus bonus esse volebat; Sed cum convaluit, manet ut ante fuit.”

When the Devil was sick, the devil a monk would be; When the Devil got well, the devil a monk was he.

Said of those persons who in times of sickness or danger make pious resolutions, but forget them when danger is past and health recovered.

Devil to Pay and no Pitch Hot

(The). The “devil” is a seam between the garboard-strake and the keel, and to “pay” is to cover with pitch. In former times, when vessels were often careened for repairs, it was difficult to calk and pay this seam before the tide turned. Hence the locution, the ship is careened, the devil is exposed, but there is no pitch hot ready, and the tide will turn before the work can be done. (French, payer, from paix, poix, pitch.)

The Devil to Pay
is the name of a farce by Jobson and Nelly. Here's the very devil to pay. Is used in quite another sense, meaning: Here's a pretty kettle of fish. I'm in a pretty mess; this is confusion worse confounded.


Cheating the devil.
Mincing an oath; doing evil for gain, and giving part of the profits to the Church, etc. It is by no means unusual in monkish traditions. Thus the “Devil's Bridge” is a single arch over a cataract. It is said that his Satanic Majesty had knocked down several bridges, but promised the abbot, Giraldus of Einsiedel, to let this one stand, provided the abbot would consign to him the first living thing that crossed it. When the bridge was finished, the abbot threw across it a loaf of bread, which a hungry dog ran after, and “the rocks re-echoed with peals of laughter to see the Devil thus defeated.” (Longfellow: Golden Legend, v.)

The bridge referred to by Longfellow is that over the Fall of the Reuss, in the canton of the Uri, Switzerland.

Rabelais says that a farmer once bargained with the Devil for each to have on alternate years what grew under and over the soil. The canny farmer sowed carrots and turnips when it was his turn to have the under-soil share, and wheat and barley the year following. (Pantagruel, book iv. chap. xlvi.)

Give the devil his due.
Give even a bad man or one hated like the devil the credit he deserves. Gone to the devil. To ruin. The Devil and St. Dunstan was the sign of a public house, No. 2, Fleet Street, at one time much frequented by lawyers.

“Into the Devil Tavern three booted troopers strode.”

Pull devil, pull baker.
Lie, cheat, and wrangle away, for one is as bad as the other. (In this proverb baker is not a proper name, but the trade.)

“Like Punch and the Deevil rugging about the Baker at the fair.” —SirW.Scott: Old Mortality, chap.xxxviii.

Talk of the devil and he's sure to come.
Said of a person who has been the subject of conversation, and who unexpectedly makes his appearance. An older proverb still is, “Talk of the Dule and he'll put out his horns;” but the modern euphemism is, “Talk of an angel and you'll see its wings.” If “from the fulness of the heart the mouth speaketh,” their hearts must be full of the evil one who talk about him, and if the heart is full of the devil he cannot be far off.
Forthwith the devil did appear, For name him, and he's always near.

Prior: Hans Carvel.

To hold a candle to the devil is to abet an evildoer out of fawning fear. The allusion is to the story of an old woman who set one wax taper before the image of St. Michael, and another before the Devil whom he was trampling under foot. Being reproved for paying such honour to Satan, she naïvely replied: “Ye see, your honour, it is quite uncertain which place I shall go to at last, and sure you will not blame a poor woman for securing a friend in each.”

To kindle a fire for the devil
is to offer sacrifice, to do what is really sinful, under the delusion that you are doing God service.

To play the very devil with [the matter].
To so muddle and mar it as to spoil it utterly. When the devil is blind. Never. Referring to the utter absence of all disloyalty and evil.

“Ay, Tib, that will be [i.e. all will be true and loyal] when the deil is blind; and his e'en's no sair yet.” —Sir W. Scott: Guy Mannering (Dandie Dinmont to Tib Mumps), chap.xxii.


(A), in legal parlance, is a leader's fag who gets up the facts of a brief, with the laws bearing on it, and arranges everything for the pleader in methodical order.

These juniors have surplus briefs handed to them by their seniors. A good fag is a good devil and is sure to get on.

The Attorney-General's devils are the Counsel of the Treasury, who not unfrequently get promoted to the bench.

A printer's devil.
Formerly, the boy who took the printed sheets from the tympan of the press. Old Moxon says: “They do commonly so black and bedaub themselves that the workmen do jocosely call them devils.” The errand-boy is now so called. The black slave employed by Aldo Manuzio, Venetian printer, was thought to be an imp. Hence the following proclamation:

“I, Aldo Manuzio, printer to the Doge, have this day made public exposure of the printer's devil. All who think he is not flesh and blood may come and pinch him.'” —Proclamation of Aldo Manuzio, 1490.

Robert the Devil, of Normandy. (See Robert Le Diable.)

The French Devil.
Jean Bart, an intrepid French sailor, born at Dunkirk. (1650-1702.) Son of the Devil. Ezzelino, chief of the Gibelins, and Governor of Vicenza, was so called for his infamous cruelties. (1215-1259).
Fierce Ezelin, that most inhuman lord, Who shall be deemed by men the child of hell.

Rose: Orlando Furioso, iii. 32.

The White Devil of Wallachia.
George Castriota was so called by the Turks. (1404-1467.)
Source: Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, E. Cobham Brewer, 1894

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