Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: Scylla and Charybdis, between.

Scylla and Charybdis, between. As described by Homer, Scylla /SiL-uh/ was a sea monster who had six heads (each with a triple row of teeth) and twelve feet. Though primarily a fish-eater, she was capable of snatching and devouring (in one swoop) six sailors if their ship ventured too near her cave in the Strait of Messina. (In the accounts of later writers, she is rationalized into a rocky promontory.) Toward the opposite shore, not far from Scylla’s lair, was Charybdis /kuh-RiB-dis/, a whirlpool strong enough thrice daily to suck into its vortex whole ships if they came too close. Thus, to say “between Scylla and Charybdis” is a close literary equivalent of “between a rock and a hard place” or “between the devil and the deep blue sea.” The main difference between the phrases is that there is no comfort between a rock and a hard place; there is a safe, though precarious, way to proceed between Scylla and Charybdis. All three phrases are clichés. For more information about the Language-Change Index click here. Quotation of the Day: “For the writer — any kind of writer — the dictionary is an indispensable resource. No matter how extensive vocabulary the writer may have, no matter how skilled he may be in selection of words, there is always the likelihood that use of the dictionary may sharpen his discrimination in the use of words, may supply him with a synonym better than his first choice, or may even open up a new line of thought.” Edward N. Teall, Putting Words to Work 78-79 (1940).
Scroll to Top