give the devil his due


  1. Theology.
    1. (sometimes initial capital letter)the supreme spirit of evil; Satan.
    2. a subordinate evil spirit at enmity with God, and having power to afflict humans both with bodily disease and with spiritual corruption.
  2. an atrociously wicked, cruel, or ill-tempered person.
  3. a person who is very clever, energetic, reckless, or mischievous.
  4. a person, usually one in unfortunate or pitiable circumstances: The poor devil kept losing jobs through no fault of his own.
  5. Also called printer’s devil. Printing. a young worker below the level of apprentice in a printing office.
  6. any of various mechanical devices, as a machine for tearing rags, a machine for manufacturing wooden screws, etc.
  7. Nautical. (in deck or hull planking) any of various seams difficult to caulk because of form or position.
  8. any of various portable furnaces or braziers used in construction and foundry work.
  9. the devil, (used as an emphatic expletive or mild oath to express disgust, anger, astonishment, negation, etc.): What the devil do you mean by that?

verb (used with object), dev·iled, dev·il·ing or (especially British) dev·illed, dev·il·ling.

  1. to annoy; harass; pester: to devil Mom and Dad for a new car.
  2. to tear (rags, cloth, etc.) with a devil.
  3. Cookery. to prepare (food, usually minced) with hot or savory seasoning: to devil eggs.
  1. between the devil and the deep (blue) sea, between two undesirable alternatives; in an unpleasant dilemma.
  2. devil of a, extremely difficult or annoying; hellish: I had a devil of a time getting home through the snow.
  3. give the devil his due, to give deserved credit even to a person one dislikes: To give the devil his due, you must admit that she is an excellent psychologist.
  4. go to the devil,
    1. to fail completely; lose all hope or chance of succeeding.
    2. to become depraved.
    3. (an expletive expressing annoyance, disgust, impatience, etc.)
  5. let the devil take the hindmost, to leave the least able or fortunate persons to suffer adverse consequences; leave behind or to one’s fate: They ran from the pursuing mob and let the devil take the hindmost.
  6. play the devil with, to ruin completely; spoil: The financial crisis played the devil with our investment plans.
  7. raise the devil,
    1. to cause a commotion or disturbance.
    2. to celebrate wildly; revel.
    3. to make an emphatic protest or take drastic measures.
  8. the devil to pay, trouble to be faced; mischief in the offing: If conditions don’t improve, there will be the devil to pay.


  1. theol (often capital) the chief spirit of evil and enemy of God, often represented as the ruler of hell and often depicted as a human figure with horns, cloven hoofs, and tail
  2. theol one of the subordinate evil spirits of traditional Jewish and Christian belief
  3. a person or animal regarded as cruel, wicked, or ill-natured
  4. a person or animal regarded as unfortunate or wretchedthat poor devil was ill for months
  5. a person or animal regarded as clever, daring, mischievous, or energetic
  6. informal something difficult or annoying
  7. Christian Science the opposite of truth; an error, lie, or false belief in sin, sickness, and death
  8. (in Malaysia) a ghost
  9. a portable furnace or brazier, esp one used in road-making or one used by plumbersCompare salamander (def. 7)
  10. any of various mechanical devices, usually with teeth, such as a machine for making wooden screws or a rag-tearing machine
  11. See printer’s devil
  12. law (in England) a junior barrister who does work for another in order to gain experience, usually for a half fee
  13. meteorol a small whirlwind in arid areas that raises dust or sand in a column
  14. between the devil and the deep blue sea between equally undesirable alternatives
  15. devil of informal (intensifier)a devil of a fine horse
  16. give the devil his due to acknowledge the talent or the success of an opponent or unpleasant person
  17. go to the devil
    1. to fail or become dissipated
    2. (interjection)used to express annoyance with the person causing it
  18. like the devil with great speed, determination, etc
  19. play the devil with informal to make much worse; upset considerablythe damp plays the devil with my rheumatism
  20. raise the devil
    1. to cause a commotion
    2. to make a great protest
  21. talk of the devil! or speak of the devil! (interjection) used when an absent person who has been the subject of conversation appears
  22. the devil! (intensifier 🙂
    1. used in such phrases as what the devil, where the devil, etc
    2. an exclamation of anger, surprise, disgust, etc
  23. the devil’s own a very difficult or problematic (thing)
  24. the devil take the hindmost or let the devil take the hindmost look after oneself and leave others to their fate
  25. the devil to pay problems or trouble to be faced as a consequence of an action
  26. the very devil something very difficult or awkward

verb -ils, -illing or -illed or US -ils, -iling or -iled

  1. (tr) to prepare (esp meat, poultry, or fish) by coating with a highly flavoured spiced paste or mixture of condiments before cooking
  2. (tr) to tear (rags) with a devil
  3. (intr) to serve as a printer’s devil
  4. (intr) mainly British to do hackwork, esp for a lawyer or author; perform arduous tasks, often without pay or recognition of one’s services
  5. (tr) US informal to harass, vex, torment, etc

Old English deofol “evil spirit, a devil, the devil, false god, diabolical person,” from Late Latin diabolus (also the source of Italian diavolo, French diable, Spanish diablo; German Teufel is Old High German tiufal, from Latin via Gothic diabaulus).

The Late Latin word is from Ecclesiastical Greek diabolos, in Jewish and Christian use, “Devil, Satan” (scriptural loan-translation of Hebrew satan), in general use “accuser, slanderer,” from diaballein “to slander, attack,” literally “throw across,” from dia- “across, through” + ballein “to throw” (see ballistics). Jerome re-introduced Satan in Latin bibles, and English translators have used both in different measures.

In Vulgate, as in Greek, diabolus and dæmon (see demon) were distinct, but they have merged in English and other Germanic languages.

Playful use for “clever rogue” is from c.1600. Meaning “sand spout, dust storm” is from 1835. In U.S. place names, the word often represents a native word such as Algonquian manito, more properly “spirit, god.” Phrase a devil way (late 13c.) was originally an emphatic form of away, but taken by late 14c. as an expression of irritation.

Devil’s books “playing cards” is from 1729, but the cited quote says they’ve been called that “time out of mind” (the four of clubs is the devil’s bedposts); devil’s coach-horse is from 1840, the large rove-beetle, which is defiant when disturbed. “Talk of the Devil, and he’s presently at your elbow” [1660s].

Admit it when there is some good even in a person you dislike. This saying appears in Don Quixote, by Miguel de Cervantes.

A bad or fallen angel. (See Satan.)

Give credit to what is good in a disagreeable or disliked person. For example, I don’t like John’s views on education, but give the devil his due, he always has something important to say, or I don’t like what the new management has done, but give the devil his due, sales have improved. [Late 1500s]

In addition to the idioms beginning with devil

  • devil and deep blue sea
  • devil of a
  • devil take the hindmost, the
  • devil to pay, the

also see:

  • between a rock and a hard place (devil and deep blue sea)
  • full of it (the devil)
  • give someone hell (the devil)
  • give the devil his due
  • go to hell (the devil)
  • luck of the devil
  • play the devil with
  • raise Cain (the devil)
  • speak of the devil

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

51 queries 1.414