on the horns of a dilemma

Also found in: Thesaurus, Medical, Idioms, Encyclopedia.
click for a larger image
top: white rhinoceros and bighorn sheep
bottom:western saddle


1. One of the hard, usually permanent structures projecting from the head of certain mammals, such as cattle, sheep, goats, or antelopes, consisting of a bony core covered with a sheath of keratinous material.
2. A hard protuberance, such as an antler or projection on the head of a giraffe or rhinoceros, that is similar to or suggestive of a horn.
a. The hard smooth keratinous material forming the outer covering of the horns of cattle or related animals.
b. A natural or synthetic substance resembling this material.
4. A container, such as a powder horn, made from a horn.
5. Something having the shape of a horn, especially:
a. A horn of plenty; a cornucopia.
b. Either of the ends of a new moon.
c. The point of an anvil.
d. The pommel of a saddle.
e. An ear trumpet.
f. A device for projecting sound waves, as in a loudspeaker.
g. A hollow, metallic electromagnetic transmission antenna with a circular or rectangular cross section.
6. Music
a. A wind instrument made of an animal horn.
b. A brass instrument, such as a trombone or tuba.
c. A French horn.
d. A wind instrument, such as a trumpet or saxophone, used in a jazz band.
a. A usually electrical signaling device that produces a loud resonant sound: an automobile horn.
b. Any of various noisemakers operated by blowing or by squeezing a hollow rubber ball.
8. Slang A telephone.
intr.v. horned, horn·ing, horns
To join without being invited; intrude. Used with in.
blow/toot (one's) own horn Informal
To brag or boast about oneself.
draw/haul/pull in (one's) horns Informal
1. To restrain oneself; draw back.
2. To retreat from a previously taken position, view, or stance.
3. To economize.
on the horns of a dilemma
Faced with two equally undesirable alternatives.

[Middle English, from Old English; see ker- in Indo-European roots.]

horn adj.
horn′ist n.

on the horns of a dilemma

In a situation in which a difficult choice must be made, often between two equally unpleasant options.
References in periodicals archive ?
AN auctioneer is on the horns of a dilemma - over the sale of a stuffed rhinoceros head worth at least pounds 30,000 to Chinese herbalists.
As the World Health Organization representative in Entebbe pointed out, many, many Ugandan wives are today caught on the horns of a dilemma.
Caught on the horns of a dilemma, King wanted to address the weight of history (black people's anger over their degradation) without bringing down the wrath of the white city fathers in this rigidly segregated police state.