What Does Devil Take the Hindmost Mean?

The Devil Takes the Hindmost Meaning

Definition: The last people, or people farthest behind, won’t get any assistance from the larger group.

Origin of Devil Take the Hindmost

This expression comes from the 1500s. The idea is that if everyone is running away, the devil will capture those who are farthest from the front. Therefore, if someone says this expression, it means that those in the rear of a group are at risk.

It is thought to originate from children’s games like tag, where the one who is left behind is the loser. By the 16th century, the meaning had been transformed to mean selfishness.

An early example John Florio’s First Fruites from 1578:

  • Every one for him selfe, and the divel for all.

Another early example can be found in Beaumont and Fletcher’s Philaster from 1608:

  • What if…they run all away, and cry the Devil take the hindmost?

Examples of Devil Take the Hindmost

devil takes the hindmostThe first dialogue shows a brother and sister racing to a surprise concert.

Luke: Ella, hurry up! I just heard news that our favorite singer is giving a surprise concert downtown!

Ella: That’s awesome! How do we get tickets?

Luke: That’s the good news. The concert is free.

Ella: What’s the bad news?

Luke: Only the first 200 people can enter the concert. So let’s go get there as fast as we can. Sorry, but I can’t wait for you any longer! Devil take the hindmost!

devil take the hindmost a history of financial speculationThe second example shows two friends on a hike.

Ray: Wow! So many people showed up for this hike. It’s nice to see this many folks enjoying nature.

Ricardo: Yeah. It’s great. Ouch! What was that?

Ray: Ouch! Something bit me!

Ricardo: Oh no! We are walking right through the middle of a bunch of fire ants!

Ray: Everybody! There’s fire ants! Run away, and devil take the hindmost!

Ricardo: Ahhhh!

More Examples

This article excerpt is about how states all wanted to be the first to hold their primary elections. The idea is that the last states are at a disadvantage. This is because the first states can influence the candidates for president more heavily.

  • That’s where one innovation in the latest iteration of the moved-up primary idea enters: When California previously tried moving its primary up as early as Feb. 5, other states hustled into even earlier dates in a sort of devil-take-the-hindmost approach. –OC Register

This excerpt is from a book review. It means that the poorest people are at a disadvantage.

  • One percent of the U.S. population controls 50% of the nation’s wealth. The current crisis was predicated on a handful of elites expropriating vast sums of the nation’s industrial and social fortune, and the devil take the hindmost. –LA Times


The idiom devil take the hindmost is an expression that means the last people in a group will be out of luck.