Devil Sayings

pitch fork in fire

October is the month for spookiness and if you ask me there’s nothing spookier than the Devil.

There’s all manner of sayings about the Devil used in Appalachia and beyond. The word can also be found sprinkled around our language.


  • The Devil and Tom Walker: used as an exclamation showing surprise
  • Up jumped the Devil: said after a mischievous or mean act has taken place or when someone who is disliked suddenly shows up
  • If the sun shines while its raining it means the Devil is beating his wife
  • The Devil take the hindmost: sorta like saying “I’m gonna take care of myself and who cares what happens to the rest
  • The Devil takes care of his own: said when evil doers seem to prosper
  • Between the Devil and the deep blue sea: you’re in trouble and it’s most likely your fault
  • Get behind me Satan: comes straight from scripture, but is often said in a teasing way when someone is trying to get you to do something you shouldn’t
  • Give the Devil his due: even if someone you dislike accomplishes something you have to give him his due and has been around since Shakespeare used it
  • If you sup with the Devil you need to use a long spoon: this one is as old as the Canterbury Tales
  • Full of the Devil
  • Telling the devil where your goat is tied: mentioning something that you really don’t want to happen
  • Idle hands are the Devil’s workshop
  • You’ll have the Devil to pay for doing that
  • Speak of the Devil: said when someone you were talking about suddenly appears


  • Dust devil: when the wind moves in a tight circular motion across the ground
  • Devilish: aggravating or despicable
  • Devil’s apple: may apple
  • Devil’s brew: liquor
  • Devil’s footstool: a large mushroom
  • Devil’s snuffbox: puffball full of dusty spores (I always loved to stomp these as a child. Actually I guess I still do 🙂 )
  • Devil: to tease or aggravate


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  • Reply
    Gary Griffith
    October 17, 2019 at 10:47 pm

    I often heard my father say of someone whose daughters had married some fairly sorry boys, “The devil owed him a debt and paid him in son-in-laws.”-

  • Reply
    Paul Certo
    October 17, 2019 at 4:02 pm

    ‘The Devil And Tom Walker’ is a short story by Washington Irving, first published in 1824. Not sure how it got to be an exclamation if surprise, but a lot of things are taken out of context. In the story, Tom Walker has sold his soul to the devil. When the Devil comes to collect, Walker engages a lawyer and files suit, trying to get out of the deal.
    I won’t say what else happens, look for the story. It’s short, probably available online or in libraries.

  • Reply
    Lois Tootle
    October 17, 2019 at 1:44 pm

    Anyone heard the saying “Devil take it”? I remember hearing this said growing up in Southwest Virginia. Wasn’t sure what that meant.

  • Reply
    Ed Karshner
    October 17, 2019 at 1:33 pm

    My mom always used to tell us boys that you “chose the devil you run with. ” That was a rebuke if we tried to blame somebody else for the group shenanigans.

    That’s actually the title of an essay I’m working on.

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    October 17, 2019 at 12:03 pm

    Mama already had us scared, she told us about “Raw head and Bloody Bones” a couple nights earlier. Me and Harold decided to thumb to Andrews to see a Dracula movie, with about 5 or 6 of our friends. Some of us would hide below the bank, so we could catch a ride easier. We got to the Henn Drive-in and we told the driver to let us off at the Bridge. We waited until it was gooden dark before we decided to slip-in and wade down Valley River to the movie. We got us a place near the big screen and built a small fire to dry off.

    After the movie was over, all of us was scared to death, Ole Dracula could be hiding most anywheres. When we got to the trail that led to the house, I got out first and began to run and Harold was about 12, and caught me shortly. I stepped on a snake of somekind and about that time Harold went by me and said “move” and I thought Dracula had me.

    When we got home, no more slippin” into the kitchen and having Cornbread and Beans, we went to bed. …Ken

  • Reply
    Dana Wall
    October 17, 2019 at 10:21 am

    I wonder if this examination of the original meaning of the word translated as “Satan” from an ancient language sheds light or dissent among Christians today.

    “…/12639/what-is-meant-by-get-behind-me-satan —
    Get thee behind me, Satan – The word “Satan” literally means “an adversary,” or one who opposes us in the accomplishment of our designs. It is applied to the devil commonly, as the opposer or adversary of man; but there is no evidence that the Lord Jesus meant to apply this term to Peter, as signifying that he was Satan or the devil, or that he used the term in anger.”

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    October 17, 2019 at 10:05 am

    Don’t forget the Go-Devil used to split your far wood and Red Devil Lye to clean your pipes and make your hominy.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    October 17, 2019 at 8:58 am

    Got to have me some deviled eggs and deviled ham. Got to run like the devil to get there before they’re gone.

  • Reply
    October 17, 2019 at 8:57 am

    What in the devil is wrong with my dog? He jumped on me and it hurt like the devil. I probably overuse the word without thinking about it.

  • Reply
    Wanda Devers
    October 17, 2019 at 8:57 am

    My brother brought Mama and her sister, Aunt Gladys, home one night from a square dance. Aunt Gladys was an old lady who never used bad language that I ever heard. My brother walked with her to her door and she began to try to unlock it with lots of trouble & fumbling. Finally she had had enough & “THE DEVIL” came out of her mouth pretty loud & aggravated. My brother had a time not laughing and we have retold this story many times.

    Mama used to sing us that old song where the devil took the farmer’s wife but had to return her for being so mean. Especially remember the part where three little devils peeped over the wall, saying “Take her back, Daddy, she’ll murder us all”.

  • Reply
    aw griff
    October 17, 2019 at 8:47 am

    When I had done something I shouldn’t have done and didn’t want to tell the whole truth, Dad would say, “I was beating the devil around the bush”. Another one I’ve heard many times and for example a person was getting married again. He or she traded a witch for a devil.

    • Reply
      Sanford McKinney Jr
      October 17, 2019 at 11:07 am

      AW GRIFF,
      This reminds me of a story told about Jace McKinney who lived in Carter County TN who would go out drinking-loved gin, and come home late at night pretty well loaded. A neighbor made it up with Jace’s wife that he would give Jace a good scare and maybe that would change Jace for the better. Anyway, the neighbor dressed up in the appropriate attire and confronted Jace on Jace’s way home from a night out drinking. It was pretty dark but some moon light and the neighbor got Jace’s attention and told Jace that he was the devil to which Jace replied, “devil I am not afraid of you because I am married to your sister!”
      The truth or just a story, I have no idea.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    October 17, 2019 at 8:46 am

    Having a devil if a time – nothing is going right.

    Devil take ir – I give up. Let it go to the bad.

    When we were kids, the devil wasn’t called by that name. He was called the boogerman.

  • Reply
    October 17, 2019 at 8:13 am

    My Paternal great grandmother was as the old saying goes, “a catbird’s kitten.” She was feisty and very plain spoken. “Tory” was born in 1871 with a very hard life, so maybe she had to be a bit sharp tongued. Mom told me once laughingly that she was known to have said, “The devil paid me off in daughter-in-laws.” Never heard that before or since, but she had wonderful daughter in laws. Another phrase occasionally heard was, “I had a devil of a time.”

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    October 17, 2019 at 7:12 am

    Tip, I’ve heard all the list but two, the devil and the goat and devils apple. Then there is deviled eggs and deviled ham both meaning chopped fine and spiced up.
    We do give the devil way too much credit and, by the way, the picture is perfect!

  • Reply
    Sanford McKinney Jr
    October 17, 2019 at 6:56 am

    I think it was Flip Wilson that coined the phrase: “The Devil Made Me Do It?”

  • Reply
    marshall reagan
    October 17, 2019 at 6:11 am

    I have always heard the saying WHAT GOES OVER THE DEVILS BACK ,COMES BACK UNDER HIS BELLY & IS A WHOLE LOTS WORSE. referring to doing someone wrong on purpose,

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