Bisbee – Between a Rock and a Hard Place

August 26, 2010
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Bisbee, Arizona is notable for many curiosities and tall tales, and Bisbee folks have often found themselves “between a rock and a hard place.” This phrase originates in Bisbee, and has its beginnings in the labor struggles of the early twentieth century. The phrase described the circumstances of the workers of Bisbee, who were both fighting the local mining companies, while trying to survive with their families.

Here is a citation for the phrase “between a rock and a hard place”:

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Meaning

If you are stuck between a rock and a hard place, you are being faced with 2 difficult choices. A dilemma; either option you choose will lead to unsatisfactory results.

Origin

This phrase first originated in the United States. The earliest recorded print is from Dialect Notes V, from 1921, where he says: “To be between a rock and a hard place, to be bankrupt. Common in Arizona in recent panics; sporadic in California.”

The ‘recent panics’ Dialect Notes is referring to was the Bisbee Deportation, an illegal deportation of about 1,300 mine workers, their supporters, and innocent civilians, which happened in 1917.

The workers of Bisbee, Arizona, were not happy with their pay or their working conditions. They went on strike and presented a list of demands to Phelps Dodge. Phelps Dodge was the largest company in the area, owning the Copper Queen Mining Company and two other mining firms. The company refused the list of demands.

Copper Queen Glory Hole

The refusal of the demands resulted in 3,000 — 85% of all mine workers in Bisbee — to go on strike. Phelps Dodge retaliated by forcibly deporting the workers to New Mexico, leaving them with no money or transportation, and threatening them to never return to Bisbee.

It can be said that these workers were stuck either working at a low paying job with poor working conditions, or being unemployed and and poor. They were between a rock and a hard place, indeed.

Examples of The Phrase Being Used

“I’m between a rock and a hard place… on one hand I can go to the movies with my friends, or I can choose to go to dinner with my girlfriend.”

“Making me choose between the two of you really put me between a rock and a hard place, some friends you guys are!”

“She found herself between a rock and a hard place when deciding to either pay to fix the dent in her car, or drive around with it.”

From knowyourphrase.com

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