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(sometimes initial capital letter) the supreme spirit of evil; Satan.
a subordinate evil spirit at enmity with God, and having power to afflict humans both with bodily disease and with spiritual corruption.

an atrociously wicked, cruel, or ill-tempered person.
a person who is very clever, energetic, reckless, or mischievous.
a person, usually one in unfortunate or pitiable circumstances:
The poor devil kept losing jobs through no fault of his own.
Also called printer’s devil. Printing. a young worker below the level of apprentice in a printing office.
any of various mechanical devices, as a machine for tearing rags, a machine for manufacturing wooden screws, etc.
Nautical. (in deck or hull planking) any of various seams difficult to caulk because of form or position.
any of various portable furnaces or braziers used in construction and foundry work.
the devil, (used as an emphatic expletive or mild oath to express disgust, anger, astonishment, negation, etc.):
What the devil do you mean by that?
to annoy; harass; pester:
to devil Mom and Dad for a new car.
to tear (rags, cloth, etc.) with a devil.
Cookery. to prepare (food, usually minced) with hot or savory seasoning:
to devil eggs.
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,

to fail completely; lose all hope or chance of succeeding.
to become depraved.
(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,

to cause a commotion or disturbance.
to celebrate wildly; revel.
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.
Contemporary Examples

As Marcus says, the devil is often in the details in cases like this, “some decimal point in the wrong place.”
James Murdoch: Can He Survive Broadcast Regulator’s Criticism? Peter Jukes September 22, 2012

Someone who had known her for years told Davies that she could at times seem like “the beating heart of the devil.”
Murdoch on the Rocks: How a Lone Reporter Revealed the Mogul’s Tabloid Terror Machine Clive Irving August 24, 2014

He has kept “the devil way down in the hole,” writes Horspool, by seeming to have done a deal with the angels.
The Best of Brit Lit Peter Stothard April 29, 2009

Eric Dezenhall, author of The devil Himself, uncovers the unlikely story.
The Real Inglorious Bastards Eric Dezenhall July 18, 2011

Ortega had apparently spoken to another doctor about seeing a devil with a monster face.
Yoselyn Ortega, Alleged Killer Nanny, Says ‘I’m Sick in My Mind’ Michael Daly June 24, 2013

Historical Examples

Why the devil did that thing hang there for ages, and then come down on me today?
Her Father’s Daughter Gene Stratton-Porter

And you forget that—that devil—suppose she’s as good as her threat?
The Spenders Harry Leon Wilson

If so, you must have one of each—a large one, I said—what the devil’s the use of that?
Jan and Her Job L. Allen Harker

The mitigation of that horror they condemn, resent, and often ascribe to the devil.
The Conquest of Fear Basil King

But the devil overshadows him with his horns, and carries him off.
The Temptation of St. Antony Gustave Flaubert

(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 wretched: that 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 plumbers Compare salamander (sense 7)
any of various mechanical devices, usually with teeth, such as a machine for making wooden screws or a rag-tearing machine
See printer’s devil
(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
(informal) devil of, (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

to fail or become dissipated
(interjection) used to express annoyance with the person causing it

like the devil, with great speed, determination, etc
(informal) play the devil with, to make much worse; upset considerably: the damp plays the devil with my rheumatism
raise the devil

to cause a commotion
to make a great protest

(interjection) talk of the devil!, speak of the devil!, used when an absent person who has been the subject of conversation appears
(intensifier:) the devil!

used in such phrases as what the devil, where the devil, etc
an exclamation of anger, surprise, disgust, etc

the devil’s own, a very difficult or problematic (thing)
the devil take the hindmost, 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, -illed (US) -ils, -iling, -iled
(transitive) to prepare (esp meat, poultry, or fish) by coating with a highly flavoured spiced paste or mixture of condiments before cooking
(transitive) to tear (rags) with a devil
(intransitive) to serve as a printer’s devil
(intransitive) (mainly Brit) to do hackwork, esp for a lawyer or author; perform arduous tasks, often without pay or recognition of one’s services
(transitive) (US, informal) to harass, vex, torment, etc

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].

A bad or fallen angel. (See Satan.)

Related Terms


(Gr. diabolos), a slanderer, the arch-enemy of man’s spiritual interest (Job 1:6; Rev. 2:10; Zech. 3:1). He is called also “the accuser of the brethen” (Rev. 12:10). In Lev. 17:7 the word “devil” is the translation of the Hebrew _sair_, meaning a “goat” or “satyr” (Isa. 13:21; 34:14), alluding to the wood-daemons, the objects of idolatrous worship among the heathen. In Deut. 32:17 and Ps. 106:37 it is the translation of Hebrew _shed_, meaning lord, and idol, regarded by the Jews as a “demon,” as the word is rendered in the Revised Version. In the narratives of the Gospels regarding the “casting out of devils” a different Greek word (daimon) is used. In the time of our Lord there were frequent cases of demoniacal possession (Matt. 12:25-30; Mark 5:1-20; Luke 4:35; 10:18, etc.).

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


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