Speak/speaking of the devil

nosaijin

Senior Member
Taiwanese Mandarin
Hello:

I know "speaking of the devil" is an acceptable variation and both can be used, but I'd like to know, which is more common in daily life?

I checked dictionaries and "speak of the devil" is definitely the origin, but recently someone I met on the internet, who claimed to have spoken English and lived in the US for decades, stated that in colloquial conversation, one should use "speaking of the devil" because most native speakers would say so, and in TV series this one is mostly used, not "speak of the devil". She added if I'm in doubt, ask native speakers and they'll give the same answer.

I tried IMDB quotes search and these two seemed to be at least 50-50 in movies, so I don't quite buy her words.

What would you say? Do you really prefer
"speaking of the devil" to ""speak of the devil"? I'm not sure if this is a proper question here, but any comments would be highly appreciated.
 
  • AnythingGoes

    Senior Member
    English - USA (Midwest/Appalachia)
    "Speak of the devil" is the only way this expression is normally used in American English. "Speaking of the devil" would be an interjection used after the devil had been mentioned, for example, if you had an interesting bit of gossip about him to share.
     

    nosaijin

    Senior Member
    Taiwanese Mandarin
    "Speak of the devil" is the only way this expression is normally used in American English. "Speaking of the devil" would be an interjection used after the devil had been mentioned, for example, if you had an interesting bit of gossip about him to share.

    Thank you, AnythingGoes.
    So if I'm gossiping about someone, and that guy suddenlly walks by. In that case, "speaking of the devil" , not "speak of the devil", would be what I say to the listener.
    Is this correct? Or is it like what PaulQ has expained below?
     
    Last edited:

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    In BE, it is quite different.

    The idea of "speaking of (about) the devil" comes from an old superstition that says that if you say the Devil's name, he will appear. The saying is "Speak of the Devil and he will appear."

    Although both speak and speaking are commonly used in both the contexts below, I suspect that in general terms:

    Speak of the Devil is used as an interjection of surprise when the person appears as you are talking about them.
    "I saw John yesterday. I hadn't seen him for years and... Hey! Look! Speak of the Devil! There he is now! John! John! Come over here!"

    "Speaking of the Devil" is more used when you refer to someone (usually someone who nobody likes) whose name has been mentioned.

    A: "I saw Fred the other day - He is still as argumentative as ever."
    B: "Yes, last time I saw him he was drunk and tried to hit me."
    C: "Speaking of the Devil, did you know that the police are looking for him?" -> As we are speaking about the Devil (i.e. Fred) ...
     

    nosaijin

    Senior Member
    Taiwanese Mandarin
    In BE, it is quite different.

    The idea of "speaking of (about) the devil" comes from an old superstition that says that if you say the Devil's name, he will appear. The saying is "Speak of the Devil and he will appear."

    Although both speak and speaking are commonly used in both the contexts below, I suspect that in general terms:

    Speak of the Devil is used as an interjection of surprise when the person appears as you are talking about them.
    "I saw John yesterday. I hadn't seen him for years and... Hey! Look! Speak of the Devil! There he is now! John! John! Come over here!"

    "Speaking of the Devil" is more used when you refer to someone (usually someone who nobody likes) whose name has been mentioned.

    A: "I saw Fred the other day - He is still as argumentative as ever."
    B: "Yes, last time I saw him he was drunk and tried to hit me."
    C: "Speaking of the Devil, did you know that the police are looking for him?" -> As we are speaking about the Devil (i.e. Fred) ...
    That's interesting! You've taught me something new.
    Thank you for the detailed explanation, PaulQ.
     

    AnythingGoes

    Senior Member
    English - USA (Midwest/Appalachia)
    So if I'm gossiping about someone, and that guy suddenlly walks by. In that case, "speaking of the devil" , not "speak of the devil", would be what I say to the listener.
    Is this correct?
    No. We would almost never say "Speaking of the devil" in American English.
     

    AnythingGoes

    Senior Member
    English - USA (Midwest/Appalachia)
    I read the reply before you edited it, and obviously I misunderstood your first reply. I believe you hold the same opinion as PaulQ does?
    No. He said that "speaking of the devil" is commonly used in British English. It's rarely used in American English. We say "Speak of the devil!" when the person we were talking about shows up unexpectedly. We wouldn't use Paul's example of "Speaking of the devil".
     

    Chasint

    Senior Member
    English - England
    In BE, it is quite different...

    A: "I saw Fred the other day - He is still as argumentative as ever."
    B: "Yes, last time I saw him he was drunk and tried to hit me."
    C: "Speaking of the Devil, did you know that the police are looking for him?" -> As we are speaking about the Devil (i.e. Fred) ...

    I am British and I have never, ever heard anyone say "speaking of the devil". The only time that I would expect to hear it would be if someone was actually talking about Satan himself.

    I have only heard "speak of the devil"
     

    nosaijin

    Senior Member
    Taiwanese Mandarin
    No. He said that "speaking of the devil" is commonly used in British English. It's rarely used in American English. We say "Speak of the devil!" when the person we were talking about shows up unexpectedly. We wouldn't use Paul's example of "Speaking of the devil".

    Hmm…So, in AE, better stick to "speak…";
    in BE, "speaking…" could be used, but in another way. I think I somewhat got it.
    Thank you for answering patiently!
     

    velisarius

    Senior Member
    British English (Sussex)
    I am British and I have never, ever heard anyone say "speaking of the devil". The only time that I would expect to hear it would be if someone was actually talking about Satan himself.

    I have only heard "speak of the devil"

    The same goes for me.
     

    lingobingo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    No. He said that "speaking of the devil" is commonly used in British English.
    It isn’t.
    I am British and I have never, ever heard anyone say "speaking of the devil".

    I have only heard "speak of the devil"
    The same goes for me.
    :thumbsup::thumbsup:

    You’re in the middle of talking about someone when they walk into the room.
    “Ah! Speak of the devil…”

    Here’s an earlier thread on the same subject: Speaking of the devil
     

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    It isn’t.
    Really? :rolleyes:
    Why have I been saying it and hearing it all these years when someone who is being talked about enters?
    And it is used in AE.

    Some from Google Ngrams: (Try and avoid the religious ones.)

    The Small Bang Theory
    By TheHoleStory
    At one point we all even voted Stinky oil of the island, after little Henry started a petition drive. Stinky went to another area of the widget plant to take his break, but was thrown out of there so fast his head spun. So it looks like we are stuck with Stinky, and speaking of the devil, he was the next person to come out of the door.

    Hearts in the City (African American Contemporary Romance)
    By Sherilyn Banks
    Jamal’s a lucky bastard he’d better do right by you or I’m coming after him,” Alistair said with grin as his attention was diverted across the room suddenly. “Speaking of the devil, he’s beckoning to me from across the room.” He gestured to where Jamal stood

    Tater and the Giant Indian - Page 228
    isbn:1465392955 - Google Search
    “Well speaking of the devil,” Brian said. “No room on the swing Matt. You have to stand up.”

    Twang - Page 106
    isbn:142676118X - Google Search
    Julie L. Cannon - 2012 “Hey, speaking of the devil, there's something else I reckon I better let you in on if we're going to work together.”

    The Crystal Masque - Page 96
    isbn:1465329439 - Google Search
    Frank Faruolo - 2007
    “Speaking of the Devil! Look who's coming up to our door. I guess I'm stuck
     

    velisarius

    Senior Member
    British English (Sussex)
    I've always understood the set phrase "speak of the devil" as a short form of "speak of the devil and he's sure to appear". People who are unaware of this may use what they think seems more logical or grammatical: (We have just been) speaking of the devil... and here he is.
     

    You little ripper!

    Senior Member
    Australian English
    Really? :rolleyes:
    Why have I been saying it and hearing it all these years when someone who is being talked about enters?
    And it is used in AE.

    Some from Google Ngrams: (Try and avoid the religious ones.)

    The Small Bang Theory
    By TheHoleStory
    At one point we all even voted Stinky oil of the island, after little Henry started a petition drive. Stinky went to another area of the widget plant to take his break, but was thrown out of there so fast his head spun. So it looks like we are stuck with Stinky, and speaking of the devil, he was the next person to come out of the door.

    Hearts in the City (African American Contemporary Romance)
    By Sherilyn Banks
    Jamal’s a lucky bastard he’d better do right by you or I’m coming after him,” Alistair said with grin as his attention was diverted across the room suddenly. “Speaking of the devil, he’s beckoning to me from across the room.” He gestured to where Jamal stood

    Tater and the Giant Indian - Page 228
    isbn:1465392955 - Google Search
    “Well speaking of the devil,” Brian said. “No room on the swing Matt. You have to stand up.”

    Twang - Page 106
    isbn:142676118X - Google Search
    Julie L. Cannon - 2012 “Hey, speaking of the devil, there's something else I reckon I better let you in on if we're going to work together.”

    The Crystal Masque - Page 96
    isbn:1465329439 - Google Search
    Frank Faruolo - 2007
    “Speaking of the Devil! Look who's coming up to our door. I guess I'm stuck
    It’s the name of one of Dolly Parton’s songs and the version I’ve always used.
     

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    But the idiom, when the person you’re talking about walks in on your conversation, is “Speak of the devil”
    I can't find any justification for that claim, especially in the face of the few examples I've given. I am willing to accept that you do not use it, but that does not invalidate it or make it the only version.
     

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    Ah... if only language were democratic... :D How do you explain the samples I gave?
     

    nosaijin

    Senior Member
    Taiwanese Mandarin
    I've always understood the set phrase "speak of the devil" as a short form of "speak of the devil and he's sure to appear". People who are unaware of this may use what they think seems more logical or grammatical: (We have just been) speaking of the devil... and here he is.

    True. And It is extremely difficult to convince someone who considers herself a "superior native speaker", even thought so far many native speakers here seem to disagree with her.
     

    sound shift

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Of course it can be said. It’s a perfectly valid construction. But the idiom, when the person you’re talking about walks in on your conversation, is “Speak of the devil” (speak (or talk) of the devil | Definition of speak (or talk) of the devil Oxford Dictionaries) (Speak of the devil - Wikipedia)
    Yes. I use "talk", but Google Ngram Viewer shows that "speak" overtook "talk" in BrE around 1995. I was already a dinosaur then, so ...
    Google Ngram Viewer
     
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