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Today, the expression "the devil to pay" is used primarily to describe having an unpleasant result from some action that has been taken.  An example is when someone has done something they should not have and, as a result, "there will be the devil to pay."  Originally, this expression described one of the more unpleasant tasks aboard a wooden ship.

The "devil" was the wooden ship's longest seam in the hull.  Caulking of seams between boards of the hull was done with "pay" or pitch (a kind of tar).  The task of "paying the devil" (caulking the longest seam of the hull) was despised by every seaman.

Posted on Saturday, April 24, 2004 8:11 AM Day Job , & Etc. | Back to top

Comments on this post: Nautical Terminology: The Devil to Pay

# re: Nautical Terminology: The Devil to Pay
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The devil is not the seam along the keel. It is the place where the deck joins the hull, inside the ship. It's a very awkward place to reach!
Left by Michael Krugman on Jul 09, 2004 7:46 PM

# re: Nautical Terminology: The Devil to Pay
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To pay a seam is to fill with caulk (rope fibres) and then seal with pitch. Pay is not a sort of pitch. The term was originally used when faced with a particularly difficult task and not being prepared for it, as shown by the full saying; ' there being the Devil to pay and no pitch hot'.
Left by AB Rhodri Miles RN on Nov 06, 2007 6:24 AM

# re: Nautical Terminology: The Devil to Pay
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It means you're buying something at Wal-mart. You think you're getting it cheaper than anywhere else, but when all the true costs are considered, it's much more expensive than anywhere else.
Left by Systoristic on Jan 02, 2008 12:25 AM

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