devil to pay, the

Serious trouble resulting from some action, as in There'll be the devil to pay if you let that dog out. This expression originally referred to trouble resulting from making a bargain with the devil, but later was broadened to apply to any sort of problem. A variant, the devil to pay and no pitch hot, first recorded in 1865, gave rise to the theory that the expression was originally nautical, since pay also means “to waterproof a seam by caulking it with pitch,” and no pitch hot meant it was a particularly difficult job, since cold pitch is hard to use. However, the original expression is much older and is the one that survives. [c. 1400]

The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.