in a cleft stick

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English[edit]

Etymology[edit]

From the metaphor of being caught in a tight position, unable to move.

Adjective[edit]

in a cleft stick

  1. Used other than as an idiom: see in,‎ cleft,‎ stick.
    • 1922, James George Frazer, The Golden Bough, Forgotten Books, Easy Reading Series, page 31,
      Hence when a Huichol woman is about to weave or embroider, her husband catches a large serpent and holds it in a cleft stick, while the woman strokes the reptile with one hand down the whole length of its back; [] .
  2. (UK, Australia, dated) In a difficult situation, unable to choose between unfavourable options; in a dilemma.
    • 1903, George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman, Act I,
      You have got me in a cleft stick.
    • 1964 September 3, H. Fullerton, Letters: Survival of the wild, New Scientist, Volume 23, No. 407, page 579,
      Such a solution only puts the humanist in a cleft stick by trading the problem of malnutrition for that of over-population.
    • 1991, Attar Chand, Rajiv Gandhi: His Mind and Ideology, page 214,
      But considerations in drafting Sonia Gandhi apart, the Congress leadership is clearly caught in a cleft stick, with or without the services of Rajiv Gandhi′s widow.