Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Episode 103: The Devil's Luck Show Notes

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Bunny Trails: A Word History Podcast

Episode 103: The Devil’s Luck

Record Date: March 5, 2021

Air Date: March 10, 2021



Welcome to Bunny Trails, a whimsical adventure of idioms and other turns of phrase. 

I’m Dan Pugh


And I’m Shauna Harrison

Every week, we take an idiom, or other turn of phrase, and try to tell the story from it’s entry into the English language, to how it’s used today.

This week, I’m feelin’ lucky. Or at least I’m looking for luck. But be careful, you may find the devil’s own luck. 

Dan, have you heard any of these expressions before? 

The devil’s luck

The devil’s own luck

The luck of the devil 




The luck of the devil or the devil’s luck has been in use for a bit. Dan, any guesses on the timeframe? Do you feel lucky? Well? Do ya? 

As it turns out… a long, long time. Let’s jump right in. 

Oxford English Dictionary gives us this definition: 

devil's luck n. (also more fully devil's own luck) uncannily good luck; (sometimes also) very bad luck.

And the first attestation is from 

1590 Richard Harvey · A Theological Discourse Lamb of God and His Enemies… 

If the holy plaintifs might haue the diuels lucke, and by some sinister meanes obtaine their request.

Next is a reference from 1614 which I thought was rather interesting and gives us some background on what at least one preacher considers to be luck from the devil. 

The Diuells Banket. Described in Sixe Sermons, By Thomas Adams, 1614

1639 Thomas Bancroft · Two Books Epigrammes & Epitaphs

The Devills child, the Devills lucke.

1743 John Henley · Why how now, Gossip Pope? Why, how Now, Gossip Pope? Or The Sweet Singing Bird of Parnassus Taken Out of Its Pretty Cage to be Roasted - In One Short Epistle (preparatory to a Criticism on His Writings) to that Darling of the Demy-wits and Minion of the Minor Criticks. Exposing the Malice, Wickedness and Vanity of His Aspersions of J.H. [i.e. John Henley], in that Monument of His Own Misery and Spleen, the Dunciad

This book is fascinating… it is essentially a series of writings calling out Pope for plagiarism for his supposedly satirical work titled Dunciad. The singing bird does indeed get a little roasted… 

1789 George Moultrie False & True 

l have had the devil's own luck in getting to this same Naples.

I was able to locate this next reference on the Chronicling America website. From The Wilmingtonian, and Delaware register., May 20, 1824. This is out of Wilmington, Delaware. This story is titled: 

The article goes on to describe the scene as each woman approached to take her chance. Here is one of these: 

March 1843 Graham's Magazine   

The fellow always had the eye of a hawk for a pretty wench, and the devil's own luck in winning them, too. 

1884 Dionysius Lardner Boucicault · The shaughraun, an original drama

Well, as the divil's luck would have it, there was only..a tailor's thimble, an' they couldn't get it full.

1907 George Bernard Shaw · John Bull's other island; and, Major Barbara; also, How he lied to her husband

He has the divil's own luck, that Englishman, annyway; for when they picked him up he hadnt a scratch on him.

It was around this same time that the phrase luck of the Irish appeared on the scene. I initially planned to research this phrase… but it just didn’t prove itself to be nearly so fun as the devil’s luck

And in fact, its history is fairly well-covered in the March 16, 2012 Mental Floss article by Angela Tung titled: "Luck of the Irish" is an Old Mining Expression

In the mid to late 1800’s, people in the U.S. wanted quick money… more specifically, they were rushing across the country in search of gold and silver. 

An excerpt from Tung’s article says that during this time, quote: 

a number of the most famous and successful miners were of Irish and Irish American birth. . . .Over time this association of the Irish with mining fortunes led to the expression 'luck of the Irish.' 

  • End quote. 

The article shares this information came from Edward T. O’Donnell, an Associate Professor of History at Holy Cross College and author of 1001 Things Everyone Should Know About Irish American History.

We will be sure to link to the article on the socials and our Patreon. It includes backstories for several other luck related terms and phrases as well. 

A Quick Thank You


We want to give a quick shout out to our amazing Patrons who have sponsored today’s episode.

Bunny Trails is and will always be free. But we are only able to make this content because of the awesome support of our Patrons like Pat Rowe, Mary Lopez, and our newest Patron, Paul!

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Pop Culture and Modern Examples

Dan, do you know what site I haven’t referenced recently? 

A submission to Urban Dictionary by Mr. Pandaz in 2013 provides us with this information: 

Devil's Luck

When a player on an online game gets incredibly lucky with obtaining loot/gear/specialty items in the game without grinding for it.

Player 1: I Can't believe you got that legendary item on the third try!!

Player 2: Yeah, I have some major devil's luck going on this week. 

Luck of the Devil - The Story of Operation Valkyrie is a book by Ian Kershaw published in 2009 and said to be the inspiration for the movie Valkyrie

It is now time that something was done. But the man who has the courage to do something must do it in the knowledge that he will go down in German history as a traitor. If he does not, however, he will be a traitor to his own conscience' Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, July 1944

The July 1944 Plot to kill Adolf Hitler was a desperate attempt by a group of senior officers to redeem Germany's honour and end the Second World War. They were heroic because they knew their chances of success were slight and that the result of their failure would undoubtedly be a terrible death. They wanted to leave a message for later generations: that there were Germans who understood the evils of Nazism and were willing to act against it.

Book pub. In Jan 2019 Luck of the Devil by Meghan March is from the romance genre. It was preceded by Deal with the Devil. Here’s a snippet from the publisher (Meghan March LLC): 

New York Times bestselling author Meghan March continues the story of ruthless, calculating billionaire Jericho Forge in Luck of the Devil.

My poker face has always been my greatest asset, along with my grit and determination.

I was beholden to no one. Asked permission for nothing.

Then Jericho Forge took my life by storm.

I traded my freedom for something infinitely more precious, but I didn’t realize Forge was holding an unbeatable hand.

Now, all I have to do is survive the high-stakes game my life has become—with my heart intact.

But not falling in love with Forge will take the luck of the devil.

Posted on Twitter March 5, 2021 

Wrap up...

This is such a fun phrase! I didn’t realize it was so widely used today and I had no clue going into the research that it had been around for so long. There are a large number of superstitions that have led to wonderful phrases, but this is now one of my favorites. It is sort of fun and can be used to refer to good luck or bad luck. It seems as though it will stick around for quite a long time as well. It has been associated with everything from clumsiness to gambling to war to video games. It’s so versatile. I don’t know if I’ve got it and I certainly don’t know if I want it. But I’m going to start using the phrase more frequently… The luck of the devil. 



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Thanks for joining us. We’ll talk to you again next week. And until then remember... 


Words belong to their users.

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