What Does Give the Devil his Due Mean?

Give the Devil his Due Meaning

Definition: Repay the devil what you owe him.

Origin of Give the Devil his Due

This expression appeared in a play by the famous English playwright William Shakespeare. He used it in his play Henry V, Part 1 from the year 1599. This play is about the Hundred Years’ War and Prince Henry’s plan to rule France as well as England.

In the play, Prince Henry is discussing with a friend whether it is better to keep a promise with the devil, and thus be damned from heaven, or to break a promise, and thus be in trouble with the devil. Henry claims it is better to keep the promise with the devil.

It appears, however, that this phrase existed before Shakespeare used in the Henry V.

An earlier source can be found from the year 1589 in Pappe with an Hatchet, which is believed to have been written by John Lyly:

  • Giue them their due though they were diuels.

Examples of Give the Devil his Due

coal chamber giving the devil his due In the dialogue below, two friends are talking about a project one of them has been working on with a coworker. They jokingly refer to this coworker as the devil.

Ezekiel: How’s that project going?

Maggie: Terribly! My coworker is hardly helping at all. I’m doing almost everything all by myself!

Ezekiel: Almost everything? Which part is he helping with?

Maggie: He is only googling pictures and adding them to the powerpoint. I don’t want to tattle on him to my boss, because I don’t want to seem petty.

Ezekiel: You could always email him thanking him for looking for the pictures, and asking him if he’s sure he doesn’t want to take on a bigger role. You could cc your boss in the email. That way, you give the devil his due. By this I mean that you give him credit for the pictures, but at the same time your boss knows how much he is slacking.

define give devil his duesIn this example, two friends are discussing an old movie.

Tyrion: Did you see that movie about the man who sold his soul to the devil?

Mila: It’s possible, but I’m not sure. Can you remember anything else about the plot? There are a lot of movies that focus around a character who is trying to get out of giving the devil his due.

More Examples

This excerpt is about legal rights of immigrants who came to the USA as children, and the legality of their residence.

Give the devil his due, Trump knows he made a mistake on DACA and he has had the guts to rescue it.

800,000 kids across the country, including some Irish who came to America as toddlers, can hopefully breathe a sigh of relief. The Don in the White House just made an offer no one can refuse – though his hardliners would love to. –Irish Central

This excerpt is about the owner of a football team.

The first three on the above list are currently deceased, which is the state football fans have often wished Jones were in. But it’s time to give the devil his due.

Jones truly is the greatest owner ever, and Friday night showed why. –Orlando Sentinel

Summary

Give the devil his due means offer the devil what he was promised. People often use this to refer to a person as the devil.

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