What does the expression “to whip the devil around the stump” mean and Where does it come from?

The expression “to whip the devil around the stump” means to evade a responsibility or duty in a roundabout manner; to get deviously around a difficulty.

It may be that this old American expression is an offshoot of the familiar “up a stump,” which means in perplexity, in confusion, and which in turn came from the use of a tree stump as a platform for making a speech, one mounted upon a stump might well be confused and have stage fright. But if there was any connection, the explanation cannot be found now.

In 1786, the date when the earliest record of the expression occurs, it was credited to Virginia.

Possibly there was some allusion to the biblical admonition, “Get thee behind me, Satan,” but it is more likely that it came from some folk talc once current in the South.

About Karen Hill

Karen Hill is a freelance writer, editor, and columnist. Born in New York, her work has appeared in the Examiner, Yahoo News, Buzzfeed, among others.

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