[dev-uh l]


verb (used with object), dev·iled, dev·il·ing or (especially British) dev·illed, dev·il·ling.


    between the devil and the deep (blue) sea, between two undesirable alternatives; in an unpleasant dilemma.
    devil of a, extremely difficult or annoying; hellish: I had a devil of a time getting home through the snow.
    give the devil his due, to give deserved credit even to a person one dislikes: To give the devil his due, you must admit that she is an excellent psychologist.
    go to the devil,
    1. to fail completely; lose all hope or chance of succeeding.
    2. to become depraved.
    3. (an expletive expressing annoyance, disgust, impatience, etc.)
    let the devil take the hindmost, to leave the least able or fortunate persons to suffer adverse consequences; leave behind or to one's fate: They ran from the pursuing mob and let the devil take the hindmost.
    play the devil with, to ruin completely; spoil: The financial crisis played the devil with our investment plans.
    raise the devil,
    1. to cause a commotion or disturbance.
    2. to celebrate wildly; revel.
    3. to make an emphatic protest or take drastic measures.
    the devil to pay, trouble to be faced; mischief in the offing: If conditions don't improve, there will be the devil to pay.

Origin of devil

before 900; Middle English devel, Old English dēofol < Late Latin diabolus < Greek diábolos Satan (Septuagint, NT), literally, slanderer (noun), slanderous (adj.), verbid of diabállein to assault someone's character, literally, to throw across, equivalent to dia- dia- + bállein to throw
Related formsout·dev·il, verb (used with object), out·dev·iled, out·dev·il·ing or (especially British) out·dev·illed, out·dev·il·ling.sub·dev·il, nounun·der·dev·il, noun Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

British Dictionary definitions for play the devil with



theol (often capital) the chief spirit of evil and enemy of God, often represented as the ruler of hell and often depicted as a human figure with horns, cloven hoofs, and tail
theol one of the subordinate evil spirits of traditional Jewish and Christian belief
a person or animal regarded as cruel, wicked, or ill-natured
a person or animal regarded as unfortunate or wretchedthat poor devil was ill for months
a person or animal regarded as clever, daring, mischievous, or energetic
informal something difficult or annoying
Christian Science the opposite of truth; an error, lie, or false belief in sin, sickness, and death
(in Malaysia) a ghost
a portable furnace or brazier, esp one used in road-making or one used by plumbersCompare salamander (def. 7)
any of various mechanical devices, usually with teeth, such as a machine for making wooden screws or a rag-tearing machine
law (in England) a junior barrister who does work for another in order to gain experience, usually for a half fee
meteorol a small whirlwind in arid areas that raises dust or sand in a column
between the devil and the deep blue sea between equally undesirable alternatives
devil of informal (intensifier)a devil of a fine horse
give the devil his due to acknowledge the talent or the success of an opponent or unpleasant person
go to the devil
  1. to fail or become dissipated
  2. (interjection)used to express annoyance with the person causing it
like the devil with great speed, determination, etc
play the devil with informal to make much worse; upset considerablythe damp plays the devil with my rheumatism
raise the devil
  1. to cause a commotion
  2. to make a great protest
talk of the devil! or speak of the devil! (interjection) used when an absent person who has been the subject of conversation appears
the devil! (intensifier :)
  1. used in such phrases as what the devil, where the devil, etc
  2. an exclamation of anger, surprise, disgust, etc
the devil's own a very difficult or problematic (thing)
the devil take the hindmost or let the devil take the hindmost look after oneself and leave others to their fate
the devil to pay problems or trouble to be faced as a consequence of an action
the very devil something very difficult or awkward

verb -ils, -illing or -illed or US -ils, -iling or -iled

(tr) to prepare (esp meat, poultry, or fish) by coating with a highly flavoured spiced paste or mixture of condiments before cooking
(tr) to tear (rags) with a devil
(intr) to serve as a printer's devil
(intr) mainly British to do hackwork, esp for a lawyer or author; perform arduous tasks, often without pay or recognition of one's services
(tr) US informal to harass, vex, torment, etc

Word Origin for devil

Old English dēofol, from Latin diabolus, from Greek diabolos enemy, accuser, slanderer, from diaballein, literally: to throw across, hence, to slander
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for play the devil with



Old English deofol "evil spirit, a devil, the devil, false god, diabolical person," from Late Latin diabolus (also the source of Italian diavolo, French diable, Spanish diablo; German Teufel is Old High German tiufal, from Latin via Gothic diabaulus).

The Late Latin word is from Ecclesiastical Greek diabolos, in Jewish and Christian use, "Devil, Satan" (scriptural loan-translation of Hebrew satan), in general use "accuser, slanderer," from diaballein "to slander, attack," literally "throw across," from dia- "across, through" + ballein "to throw" (see ballistics). Jerome re-introduced Satan in Latin bibles, and English translators have used both in different measures.

In Vulgate, as in Greek, diabolus and dæmon (see demon) were distinct, but they have merged in English and other Germanic languages.

Playful use for "clever rogue" is from c.1600. Meaning "sand spout, dust storm" is from 1835. In U.S. place names, the word often represents a native word such as Algonquian manito, more properly "spirit, god." Phrase a devil way (late 13c.) was originally an emphatic form of away, but taken by late 14c. as an expression of irritation.

Devil's books "playing cards" is from 1729, but the cited quote says they've been called that "time out of mind" (the four of clubs is the devil's bedposts); devil's coach-horse is from 1840, the large rove-beetle, which is defiant when disturbed. "Talk of the Devil, and he's presently at your elbow" [1660s].

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

play the devil with in Culture


A bad or fallen angel. (See Satan.)

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

Idioms and Phrases with play the devil with

play the devil with

Upset, ruin, make a mess of, as in This weather plays the devil with my aching joints, or Wine stains play the devil with a white tablecloth. This allusion to diabolical mischief is heard more in Britain than in America. [Mid-1500s] Also see the synonym play havoc.


In addition to the idioms beginning with devil

  • devil and deep blue sea
  • devil of a
  • devil take the hindmost, the
  • devil to pay, the

also see:

  • between a rock and a hard place (devil and deep blue sea)
  • full of it (the devil)
  • give someone hell (the devil)
  • give the devil his due
  • go to hell (the devil)
  • luck of the devil
  • play the devil with
  • raise Cain (the devil)
  • speak of the devil
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.