We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.

Advertiser Disclosure

Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.

How We Make Money

We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently from our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

What does "Speak of the Devil" Mean?

Michael Pollick
Updated May 23, 2024
Our promise to you
Language & Humanities is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At Language & Humanities, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

The idiom speak of the Devil generally refers to the sudden and presumably unexpected appearance of the object of discussion. If two co-workers are discussing the need for a meeting with their boss and the boss suddenly appears, one might utter this phrase. Other encounters with the subject of a discussion may not be quite as fortunate or welcome.

The basic premise of the idiom can be traced back to ancient folklore concerning the true identity of Satan, or the Devil. Many cultures believed the Devil's true name should never be spoken aloud, since he or one of his imps were bound to overhear and punish the speaker. Therefore, a number of nicknames and allusions to Satan appeared over the centuries, including "Old Scratch," "Prince of Darkness," and "The Evil One." Mentioning Satan's actual name in conversation was considered an invitation for evil spirits.

Some believe the entire idiom is "Speak of the Devil and he shall appear" or "Speak of the Devil and his imps shall appear." An old English proverb suggested that speaking of the Devil would make him appear at your elbow. There is some evidence which indicates the original idiom was closer to "Talk of the Devil and he shall appear," which may be a warning not to hold entire conversations about the Evil One.

Over the years, the spiritual significance of the idiom has largely faded away. The phrase is often uttered flippantly as the subject of the conversation makes his or her unexpected appearance. There is rarely any malice intended, just an acknowledgment the person really was being discussed. Sometimes both parties understand such a surprise appearance isn't out of the realm of possibility. The timing of the conversation just happened to coincide with the appearance of the person being discussed.

Sometimes, the phrase is used as social code to end a gossip session or critical discussion. If two co-workers are discussing a tyrannical boss at a company party, for instance, one might spot the employer in question and quietly utter "speak of the devil" as a signal to end the spleen venting and change the topic.

It is important to use this idiom judiciously, because it does acknowledge the fact that a third party was indeed the subject of a conversation, good or bad. When used properly, the subject of the discussion should not feel unwelcomed to the conversation. The phrase is generally used as a lighthearted acknowledgment of a coincidental appearance, nothing more.

Language & Humanities is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Michael Pollick
By Michael Pollick , Writer
As a frequent contributor to Language & Humanities, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range of topics. His curiosity drives him to study subjects in-depth, resulting in informative and engaging articles. Prior to becoming a professional writer, Michael honed his skills as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

Discussion Comments

By TrogJoe19 — On Feb 01, 2011


I think that there is real spiritual activity in the world, but should we turn it into a device of fear and paranoia? In avoiding even speaking of the Devil, medieval Christians were trying to be in denial. This is not healthy, even from a modern Christian standpoint.

By JavaGhoul — On Jan 29, 2011


I think you make a fuzzy distinction here and seem to be suggesting that the Devil is imaginary. I think that is exactly what he wants you to think. The Devil wants people to stop believing in him so he can continue his work of rebellion in the world.

By Armas1313 — On Jan 27, 2011

People used to be terrified of "Satan." Mothers would use him to get kids to quiet down and go to sleep. Even today, monsters such as the Chupacabra are used in places like Dominican Republic to get the kids to sleep. How terrible! Imagine being a poor little kid and having your parents, whom you trust, tell you that there are monsters outside that want to eat you. That could ruin a little kid's life.

By arod2b42 — On Nov 30, 2010

I try to make sure that I am smiling whenever I use this idiom, so as not to make the subject feel unwelcome or slandered. When I find out that people are speaking mean things about me behind my back, I am quite saddened by it, and I know that some people are prone to become very angry when they hear that they are being gossiped about. It is also helpful to be aware that certain people do not like to be referenced in terms of "the devil" and therefore this phrase can offend them.

Michael Pollick

Michael Pollick


As a frequent contributor to Language & Humanities, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a...
Learn more
Language & Humanities, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

Language & Humanities, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.