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A Halloween Special: The Devil is Everywhere ...

The devil is found in many different cultures and religions and takes on many different forms.
"The Devil made me do it." And other devilish idioms.
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Now, the VOA Learning English program Words and Their Stories.

Many expressions in American English come from the world of religion. Some common idioms are based on high, religious ideals. But today we look at the bad or evil side of religion.

The Devil is the most powerful spirit of evil in Christianity, Islam and other religions. The devil is clearly at work in these idioms and expressions.

Speaking of the devil, to speak of the devil means to talk about someone at the same time the person appears. Here's an example,

“John and I are going to the movies tonight and … hey, speak of the devil! Here comes John now.

"Hey John! We were just talking about you … and speak of the devil you appear.”

Believer dressed as a "devil" wearing a mask during the "Endiablada" traditional festival in Spain, Feb. 3, 2014.
Believer dressed as a "devil" wearing a mask during the "Endiablada" traditional festival in Spain, Feb. 3, 2014.

Keep in mind, this expression does not mean that you think the individual is bad or evil.

It's just an issue of timing. But there are many devil expressions that do refer to bad behavior.

And sometimes when we behave badly, we blame the devil. We say the devil made me do it.

Or we say something or someone brings out the devil in us. This means we blame someone else for our bad behavior. Let’s use it in a sentence.

“Boy, you are like a different person when your old friend from college comes around.”

“I know. I just can’t behave when he’s around. He really brings out the devil in me.”

When we use this idiom, we really don’t mean evil behavior –more like being mischievous or causing light-hearted trouble. This is different than having a devil-may-care attitude.

Having a devil-may-care way of thinking means you are willing to push the limits more than most people. And you really don’t care what others think.

There is also the daredevil. A daredevil is a wild person who likes acting dangerously. A daredevil is, well, daring the devil – which can get you into trouble.

If you are going to dress up as the Devil for Halloween, do not forget your horns and pitchfork.
If you are going to dress up as the Devil for Halloween, do not forget your horns and pitchfork.

So, it’s good to keep busy and out of trouble. And this is where the expression idle hands are the devil’s workshop comes from. The word idle means inactive or not working. And some people believe that keeping busy keeps you out of trouble.

But there are some people who team up with the devil. They play devil’s advocate. To play devil’s advocate is a very useful expression. It has a lot of meaning in just two words.

When you play devil’s advocate you say things you do not really believe just to start an argument or discussion. And, actually, this is often used in a good way.

Exactly. I could say, “Let me play devil’s advocate for a minute so we can see the other side of this issue.”

And teachers often play devil's advocate to create interesting discussions in the classroom.

But to make a deal with the devil is usually a bad idea. It means you want something so badly that you are willing to sacrifice something important for it – like your soul.

Often what you sacrifice is not really your soul but rather your morals or self-esteem. But you don’t have to sell your soul or make a deal with the devil to improve your English. Simply listen to VOA Learning English.

I’m Jonathan Evans.

And I’m Anna Matteo. And this was one devil of a Words and Their Stories.


Words in this Story

advocate n. a person who publicly supports or recommends a particular cause or policy

idle adj. not working, active, or being used

sacrifice n. the act of giving up something that you want to keep especially in order to get or do something else or to help someone

mischievous showing a playful desire to cause trouble

dangerous – adj.