Grammar

Why We Say ‘Speak of the Devil’

A depiction of SatanDeposit Photos

Have you ever used the phrase ‘speak of the devil’ when something coincidental happens when you’re having a conversation?

Suppose that you’re having the conversation with a friend of yours. The topic of a mutual friend comes up. While you’re discussing that person, they suddenly walk into the room. Either you or the other person in the conversation might, at that moment, say something like, “Well, speak of the devil!”

It’s an example of an idiom. An idiom is a phrase that carries a specific meaning that might not be obvious from the words at face value.

When we say “speak of the devil,” we’re not talking about Satan or even an evil person.

‘Speak of the devil’ began with a darker meaning

I found an interesting fact when researching the origin of this common idiom. It apparently began out of a superstition about talking about the actual devil, Satan himself.

It started with a longer phrase: “Speak of the devil and he’s sure to appear” An alternate version used the word talk instead of speak. It warned that if you talk of Satan — or perhaps any specific serious temptation — you’d find yourself confronted with it. The phrase was in use all the way back to the 1600s.

The phrase then seems to have evolved into its current usage. It almost is a form of “I told you so.” Because you spoke about someone — the devil or anyone else — you somehow “tempted fate” and brought them there.

In some cases, I can see that it might be nice to be able to speak certain things into proximity. Unfortunately, it’s never quite that easy. I’ve spoken plenty of times over the years about finding a million bucks. Not once has that monetary “devil” suddenly appeared before my eyes. Would that I had that kind of power!

the authorPatrick
Patrick is a Christian with more than 30 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.

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