Between a Rock and a Hard Place (Origin)

by Craig Shrives

What Is the Origin of the Saying "Between a Rock and a Hard Place"?

The term "to be between a rock and a hard place" means caught between two bad options. In other words, it means that you are facing a decision between two equally unpleasant or unacceptable choices.
Between a Rock and a Hard Place (Origin)

Examples of Use:

  • You can't stick to your morals. You must support your boss. I'm afraid you're between a rock and a hard place.
  • I have two options: work hard for low pay or face long-term unemployment. I'm caught between a rock and a hard place.
  • The CEO is between a rock and a hard place. If he says yes, the company will generate a loss for this task. If he says no, the client won't ask for our help when times are more profitable.
In this idiom, "rock" and "hard place" are both metaphors for a bad situation. The connotation is that the situations are impassable, meaning there are no options other than the two bad ones. The saying is an American manifestation of similar phrases used in English and other cultures:
  • "between the devil and the deep blue sea"
  • "entre la espada y la pared" (Spanish: "between the sword and the wall")
  • "zwischen Baum und Borke" (German: "between the tree and bark")
  • "между молотом и наковальней" (Russian: "between hammer and anvil")
  • "between Scylla and Charybdis" (both are mythical sea creatures in Greek mythology)
"Between a rock and a hard place" originates from the mid-19th century, but it did not start to become popular until the 1940s (evidence).

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