Meaning of the Phrase, ‘The Devil to Pay’

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I belong to this e-mail service called "A Phrase a Week," and this week’s phrase is "the devil to pay."

Now, what I didn’t know is that the seams between planks on a wooden ship are called "the devil."  Therefore, "the devil to pay" could be interpreted to mean filling in these seams, or devils, with resin, etc.

However, the "Phrase a Week" service debunks this by pointing out the Faustian bargain of selling one’s soul to get ahead in life and quotes Thomas Brown’s 1707 Letters from the Dead to the Living

"Don’t you know damnation pays every man’s scores… we knew we should have the Devil to pay one time or other, and now you see like honest men we have pawn’d our Souls for the whole Reckoning."

The e-mail notes that this usage predates the "seams" variation, which makes good sense to me, as I’m constantly paying the devil to try to stay afloat in this world of forebearance.

Categories: Grammar Sucks

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