Between two stools


      • indecision or uncertainty
        To be stuck in a difficult situation where one cannot make a decision or take action due to conflicting options or choices.

      • not belonging or fitting in
        To be caught between two groups or social circles, not fully accepted or welcomed by either one.

      • incomplete or insufficient
        To have or do something that is not enough or satisfactory, leaving one in an uncomfortable or disadvantageous position.

    Examples of Between two stools

    • Jane had to choose between her studies and part-time job because her father's unexpected medical bills had left her family in a financial crisis. She couldn't afford to ignore her financial responsibilities, but her grades were suffering due to the lack of time for study. Feeling caught between these two important aspects of her life, Jane found herself feeling increasingly stressed and anxious.

      The idiom "between two stools" is used to describe a situation where a person is torn between two equally undesirable options. In this case, Jane has been placed in the position of having to choose between her academic responsibilities and her financial obligations, both of which are important and cannot easily be ignored.

    • The politician faced a difficult choice between supporting the traditional middle-class values of his party or appealing to the growing number of disaffected working-class voters in his constituency. He was caught between the desire to remain true to his principles and the need to win over a new group of voters.

      In this example, the politician finds himself stuck between two different groups within his party, each with their own set of values and expectations. He must balance his allegiance to his traditional supporters with the need to court the support of a new and emerging group of voters, a position that is difficult and often unpredictable.

    • The writer struggled between the desire to write in a way that appealed to a wide audience and her own personal style of writing. She was torn between the need to earn a living and the desire to remain true to her creative vision.

      In this case, the writer is faced with a choice between producing work that will sell well and please the reader, or expressing herself in a way that allows her to remain true to her creative vision. The struggle between these competing demands can be emotionally draining and creatively challenging.

    • The project manager found herself stuck between the need to manage the project within budget and the desire to ensure that it was delivered on time. The project was behind schedule, and additional resources were needed to get it back on track, but this would push the cost over budget. The manager was faced with a difficult choice, one that would have significant repercussions for both the budget and the timeline.

      In this example, the project manager is caught between two important but conflicting objectives. She must balance the need to manage the project within budget with the need to ensure that it is delivered on time. This requires careful planning, strategic thinking, and a willingness to make difficult decisions under pressure.


    The idiom "between two stools" can be used in various contexts, but all of them describe a situation where a person is stuck in the middle without a clear resolution. It can refer to being unable to make a decision, not fitting in, or having an inadequate amount or quality of something. In each case, the person is in a state of limbo or uncertainty, unable to move forward or backward.

    In the first meaning, "between two stools" is often used to caution someone against attempting to do something that will not have a positive outcome. It suggests that attempting to find a middle ground or compromise could result in failure or disappointment. In the second meaning, the idiom can be used to describe a person who is not fully accepted by either group or community they are associated with. This can create a sense of isolation and discomfort, as the person does not fully belong in either group.

    The third meaning of the idiom highlights the idea of being caught in an uncomfortable or disadvantageous position. It can refer to having an insufficient amount of something, such as money or time, or not being able to fully complete a task or goal. This can lead to feelings of frustration and helplessness.

    Origin of "Between two stools"

    The origin of the idiom "between two stools" can be traced back to ancient Greece, where the philosopher Aristotle used it in his work "Nicomachean Ethics." In this text, he used the phrase "between two stools" to describe the idea of not being able to achieve a desired outcome by trying to please both sides in an argument or debate.

    The idiom was later popularized in English during the 17th century, with the earliest recorded usage found in a 1638 book titled "A Relation of a Journey Begun An. Dom. 1610." It is believed that the idiom was inspired by the physical act of sitting between two stools, which would result in an uncomfortable and unstable position. Over time, the idiom evolved to take on the metaphorical meaning of being caught between two conflicting options or choices.