Now, the VOA Special English program, Words and Their Stories.
Making choices is necessary, but not always easy. Many of our expressions
tell about this difficulty.
One of these expressions is Hobson’s choice. It often is used to
describe a difficult choice. But that is not what it really means. Its real
meaning is to have no choice at all.
The Hobson in the expression was Thomas Hobson. Mister Hobson owned a stable
of horses in Cambridge, England.
Mister Hobson often rented horses to the students at Cambridge University.
But, he did not really trust them to take good care of the horses. So, he had a
rule that prevented the students from riding his best horses. They could take
the horse that was nearest the stable door. Or, they could not take any horse at
Thus, a Hobson’s choice was really no choice.
Another expression for having no real choice is between a rock and a hard
place. It is often used to describe a difficult situation with few choices,
none of them good.
For example, your boss may ask you to work late. But you have plans to go to
a movie with your girlfriend. If you refuse to work, your boss gets angry. But
if you do not go to the movies with your girlfriend, she gets angry. So what do
you do? You are caught between a rock and a hard place.
Another expression, between the devil and the deep blue sea, also
gives you a choice between two equally dangerous things.
Its meaning seems clear. You can choose the devil and his burning fires of
hell. Or, you can choose to drown in the sea. Some word experts say the
expression comes from the days of wooden ships.
The devil is a word for a seam between two pieces of wood along the
water-line of a ship. If the seam or crack between the two pieces of wood begins
to leak, then a sailor must fix it. The sailor ordered to make the repairs was
in a dangerous situation. He was hanging over the side of the ship, working
between the devil and the deep blue sea.
There is still another expression that describes a situation with only bad
choices, being on the horns of a dilemma.
The dictionary says a dilemma is a situation in which you must make a
decision about two equally balanced choices. When your dilemma has horns, a
choice becomes impossible. When you are on the horns of a dilemma, no
matter which horn you choose, something bad will happen.
This VOA Special English program, Words and Their Stores, was written by
Marilyn Christiano. Maurice Joyce was the narrator. I’m Shirley Griffith.