Between the “Devil and the Deep Blue Sea”

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

Mississippi Maritime Museum's photo.