have the wolf by the ear
Last modified on 5 June 2013, at 12:57
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- “But, as it is, we have the wolf by the ear, and we can neither hold him nor safely let him go. Justice is in one scale, and self-preservation in the other.”
- —Thomas Jefferson to John Holmes, (discussing slavery and the Missouri question), Monticello, 22 April 1820.
- (idiomatic) To be in a sticky situation – a dangerous situation from which one cannot disengage, but in which one cannot safely remain.
Original form is “have the wolf by the ear”; common variants are “hold” rather than “have”, “a wolf” rather than “the wolf”, and plural “ears” rather than singular “ear”.
- Chinese: to have mounted the tiger (which one can neither manage nor get rid of)