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These nouns refer to a difficult situation that has no readily discernible resolution or way out. A predicament is a problematic situation about which one does not know what to do: "The wrenching predicament for conservation biologists is that endangered species reach the point of no return before their numbers fall to zero" (Cynthia Mills).
A plight is a bad or unfortunate situation: "All he desires is to escape from his plight" (J.R.R. Tolkien).
A quandary is a state of perplexity, especially about what course of action to take: "Having captured our men, we were in a quandary how to keep them" (Theodore Roosevelt).
The words jam and fix are more informal and refer to a predicament from which escape is difficult: "The only way to be certain he will not get into some sort of a jam is to put a chain around his neck and lead him around like a performing bear" (Jack Dempsey)."Here was one murder defendant ... who did not like to joke about the fix he was in" (Robert Traver).
Another informal term, a pickle is a disagreeable, embarrassing, or troublesome predicament: "I could see no way out of the pickle I was in" (Robert Louis Stevenson).
pre•dic•a•ment(prɪˈdɪk ə mənt for 1; ˈprɛd ɪ kə- for 2 )
between a rock and a hard place In a tight spot, in an uncomfortable position; trapped, cornered, pressured, with no way out; with equally undesirable alternatives, hence no true choice at all. This relatively recent and seemingly prosaic phrase is often used in reference to one’s financial plight; hence it may be conceptually related to on the rocks (INDEBTEDNESS).
between hawk and buzzard To be caught in a precarious position between two undesirable alternatives; to have a choice semantically, but actually no choice worth mentioning. Since hawks and buzzards are both birds of prey, to be literally between hawk and buzzard is a frightening and dangerous prospect. The phrase is used figuratively although it is rarely heard. There is, however, another meaning of between hawk and buzzard which is more current. See INDETERMINATENESS.
between Scylla and Charybdis To be in an extremely vulnerable position between two powerful and dangerous alternatives, either of which is difficult to avoid without encountering the other. This expression alludes to Homer’s Odyssey in which the hero Odysseus had to sail between Charybdis, a raging whirlpool on the Sicilian coast, and Scylla, a rock personified as a ravenous sea monster on the Italian side of the Straits of Messina. Odysseus tried to save his crew and ship, only to lose both and barely save his own life. The following citations from Webster’s Third show how the phrase is currently used.
… the Scylla of incomprehensibility and the Charybdis of inaccuracy have both been avoided. (Times Literary Supplement)
… between the Scylla of national parochialism and the Charybdis of complete exoticism. (Bernard Smith)
between the devil and the deep blue sea
In a perilous position; having two equally undesirable and dangerous alternatives. Devil in this expression is literally a nautical term for a seam in the hull of ships, on or below the water line. The location of this seam made repair work hazardous, and any sailor ordered to make necessary repairs was put in a precarious position. Today the phrase is used figuratively. It is a popular saying, although few people are aware that devil does not refer to Satan.
catch-22 A double-bind, a no-win situation; a seeming choice which is no choice; the dilemma of the single alternative. The term owes its origin and currency to Catch-22, a Joseph Heller novel of World War II popular in the 1960s. It is said to have been a coinage by Robert Gottlieb, Heller’s editor. As used therein, 22 is the number of the regulation which contains the catch ‘hidden trick or snag.’ The regulation provided that an airman could request release from combat duty only on grounds of insanity; but to do so was itself considered proof of sanity, because no sane person would willingly risk his life in such insane fashion. So he had no out.
Hobson’s choice The dubious choice of taking what is offered or nothing at all; the absence of any viable alternative, no real choice at all. The reference is to Thomas or Tobias Hobson (1544–1631), the owner of a Cambridge livery stable, who gave his customers the questionable choice of taking the horse nearest the stable door or none at all, despite the good selection usually in his stable. This proverbial expression dates from at least 1660.
The Masters were left to Hobson’s choice, to choose Bennet and no body else. (Anthony Wood, Athenae Oxonienses, 1691)
hold a wolf by the ears To be in a dangerous, precarious situation; to have no viable alternative; to be in a jam or predicament. The problematic nature of holding a wolf by the ears is well expressed in the following quotation from Francis Quarles’s The History of Samson (1631):
I have a Wolfe by th’eares; I dare be bold,
Neither with safety, to let go, nor hold:
What shall I do?
Originally an old Greek saying, this expression appeared in print by the mid-1500s.
in a jam In a difficult or awkward situation, in a fix, in a tight spot, in a bind. This expression, of American origin, dates from the early part of this century. It could have derived either from the verb jam ‘press, push, wedge, squeeze’ or the noun jam ‘blockage, bottleneck,’ as in log jam or traffic jam.
Henare would give his wholehearted sympathy and his last shilling to anyone in a bit of a jam. (R. D. Finlayson, Brown Man’s Burden, 1938)
in a pickle In a sorry plight, in quite a predicament; in hot water, on the hot seat; usually used with a modifier such as pretty, sad, fine, sweet. The now colloquial expression was formerly used in more serious contexts:
In this pickle lyeth man by nature, that is, all we that be Adam’s children. (John Foxe, Sermons, 1585)
It has been conjectured that its origin lies in the Dutch in de pekel zitten ‘sitting in pickle juice,’ since such a position in the brinish, vinegary liquid would be unpleasant indeed.
in a scrape In trouble, in a fix, in a fine mess.
I was generally the leader of the boys and sometimes led them into scrapes. (Benjamin Franklin, Autobiography, 1771)
Several explanations have been offered as to the origin of this expression, which dates from the early 18th century. One such explanation cites the holes that deer scrape in the ground during certain seasons, while another claims that in Scotland scrape was a term for a rabbit’s burrow (a dangerous trap for a golfer’s ball). The OED, however, conjectures that the verb to scrape gave rise to the noun form scrape as used in this expression. The most plausible explanation is the most obvious: a person in danger, who survives with a mere scrape, is better off than one who is more seriously injured. Hence, a scrape is a situation from which one escapes with his skin intact.
in chancery In a predicament; unable to extricate one-self from an embarrassing, awkward position. In chancery is also a wrestling term describing the position of the head when held under the opponent’s left arm, thus the expression have one’s head in chancery. This vulnerable position of the head has given rise to figurative use of the phrase referring to any predicament; however, the wrestling term itself alludes to the absolute control of the Court of Chancery which was notorious for holding up suits and subjecting involved parties to great inconvenience.
When I can perform my mile in eight minutes or a little less, then I feel as if I had old Time’s head in chancery. (Oliver Wendell Holmes, The Autocrat of the Breakfast-table, 1858)
in deep water In trouble, in a difficult or dangerous situation, in over one’s head. Deep waters ‘difficulties, troubles’ is found in Psalm 69.
in hot water In big trouble, in Dutch, in a scrape. This expression, which dates from the first half of the 16th century, refers to the obvious discomfort caused by scalding hot water.
This poor fellow was always getting into hot water. (Richard H. Dana, Jr., Two Years before the Mast, 1840)
in over one’s head Beyond one’s capability or resources; usually in reference to one’s financial situation ‘in debt, in the red.’ The allusion is to a swimmer floundering about in water over his head, without the stamina or the ability to reach the shore.
in the cactus An Australian term meaning in an uncomfortable or awkward situation.
in the soup In trouble, in hot water, in a difficult situation.
After collecting a good deal of money, the scoundrels suddenly left town, leaving many persons in the soup. (The Lisbon [Dakota] Star, April, 1889)
Although several explanations have been proposed as to the origin and popularization of this U. S. expression, no substantial evidence has yet been found to support any of them, leaving the original meaning of the phrase as obscure as ever.
kettle of fish See DISORDER.
on the horns of a dilemma Compelled to choose between two equally undesirable alternatives; in dire straits. A person on the horns of a dilemma must select an alternative that will surely result in a negative outcome; he will be caught or impaled no matter his choice. The word horn is used singularly to denote either of the undesirable alternatives.
This seems a smart dilemma at first … yet I think neither Horn is strong enough to push us off from our belief of the Existence of God. (Henry More, Divine Dialogue, 1668)
on the spot In a dangerous situation; in a life-threatening position; in a dire predicament; also, put on the spot. This common phrase is derived from the pirates of old, who used the one-spotted ace of spades as an indication to a stool pigeon or poltroon that his days were numbered. In contemporary usage, the expression often refers to a situation in which one is forced into a self-incriminating position.
Some of the questions directed at him were obviously designed to put Stassen on the spot. (Chicago Sun-Times, March, 1948)
up the creek In trouble, in a tight spot. This common U.S. euphemism (a truncated version of up shit creek without a paddle) first appeared in print in the 1930s. Most who use it are unaware of its vulgar origins.
“How ‘bout writing a composition for me, for English? I’ll be up the creek if I don’t get the goddam thing in by Monday.” (J. D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rue, 1951)
Variations are up Salt Creek and up Salt River, though some sources claim the latter to be a totally unrelated expression, giving conflicting, geographically erroneous, and equally implausible accounts for its reputed limited application to losing political candidates.
|Noun||1.||predicament - a situation from which extrication is difficult especially an unpleasant or trying one; "finds himself in a most awkward predicament"; "the woeful plight of homeless people"|
care - a cause for feeling concern; "his major care was the illness of his wife"
difficulty - a condition or state of affairs almost beyond one's ability to deal with and requiring great effort to bear or overcome; "grappling with financial difficulties"
box, corner - a predicament from which a skillful or graceful escape is impossible; "his lying got him into a tight corner"
hot water - a dangerous or distressing predicament; "his views on race got him into political hot water"