Contributed by Else Martin
Between the “Devil and the Deep Blue Sea”
Nautical Expressions and their origin
“Between the Devil and the Deep”
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 boson’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.
“Devil to Pay”
Today the expression “devil to pay” is used primarily to describe having an unpleasant result from some action that has been taken, as in someone has done something they shouldn’t have and, as a result, “there will be the devil to pay.” Originally, this expression described one of the unpleasant tasks aboard a wooden ship.
The “devil” was the wooden ship’s longest seam in the hull. Caulking was done with “pay” or pitch (a kind of tar). The task of “paying the devil” (caulking the longest seam) by squatting in the bilges was despised by every seaman.
The Sailor’s Word-book: by Admiral William Henry Smyth
An Alphabetical Digest of Nautical Terms, 1865
Origins of Navy Terminology