In a cleft stick


      • in a dilemma
        To be in a difficult situation where it is hard to make a decision because both options are equally bad or undesirable

      • in a tight spot
        To be in a difficult or tricky situation where there are no easy solutions or ways out

    Examples of In a cleft stick

    • My friend accidentally sent an embarrassing email to our entire office. Now I'm in a cleft stick because I don't want to tell her that I read it, but I also don't want to keep lying about it.

      "In a cleft stick" is used when someone is faced with a difficult situation with no easy way out. In this example, the speaker's friend has put them in a difficult position by sending an embarrassing email. The speaker doesn't want to betray their friend's trust by admitting they read the email, but they also don't want to lie about it. This creates a dilemma for the speaker, leaving them "in a cleft stick."

    • Jane found herself in a cleft stick when her boss asked her to work overtime and her child's school play fell on the same day. She didn't want to disappoint her boss, but she didn't want to miss her child's important performance either.

      The idiom "in a cleft stick" means being faced with two equally unpleasant alternatives and having to choose between them. In this example, Jane is caught between the demands of her job and her family, and she has to make a difficult choice.

    • The company was in a cleft stick when they discovered a major error in their financial reporting. They knew they had to correct the mistake, but they also knew it could damage their reputation and lead to regulatory penalties.

      This example shows how the idiom can be used in a business context, where a company can find itself in a difficult position due to unforeseen circumstances or mistakes. In this case, the company is caught between the necessity of correcting the error and the potential negative consequences of doing so.

    • The doctor presented Sarah with two difficult treatment options for her medical condition, each with its own risks and benefits. She felt as though she was in a cleft stick, unsure which choice would be best for her overall health and wellbeing.

      This example illustrates how the idiom can be applied in a medical context, where a person may be facing difficult decisions about their health. Sarah is caught between two treatment options, each with its own potential benefits and drawbacks, and she is uncertain about which option is best for her.

    • The bankruptcy court gave the debtor two unpalatable choices: either pay back the full amount owed or face legal action. Feeling as though he was in a cleft stick, the debtor was overcome with anxiety and despair.

      In this final example, the idiom is used to convey the intense emotional and psychological pressure that can result from being faced with difficult choices. The debtor is caught between two painful alternatives, and the situation has left him feeling overwhelmed and distressed.


    The idiom "in a cleft stick" is used to describe being in a dilemma or a tight spot. It conveys the idea of being in a difficult situation where it is hard to make a decision or find a way out. It is often used to emphasize the challenging nature of the predicament and the lack of favorable options.

    People use this idiom when they want to express the feeling of being stuck in a tough situation and not knowing what to do. It's a way to convey the sense of being in a bind or a pickle, and to highlight the difficulty of the circumstances.

    Origin of "In a cleft stick"

    The origin of the idiom "in a cleft stick" is believed to come from the literal meaning of a cleft stick, which is a stick that has been split at one end to hold something in place. In the past, a cleft stick was used to hold a message or a note, and if someone was "in a cleft stick," it meant that they were caught or trapped in a difficult situation. Over time, the idiom evolved to represent any challenging or tricky situation where it is hard to find a way out. The use of the idiom can be traced back to the 19th century in English literature, and it continues to be used in modern language today.