at loggerheads


at loggerheads (idiom)
/ət ˈlɑːɡərˌhɛdz/


  • in a state of strong disagreement or conflict
  • engaged in a dispute or argument.
  • in a state of stubborn opposition
  • unable to agree, often resulting in a stalemate or deadlock.
  • typically used to describe situations where individuals, groups, or entities are in sharp conflict and unable to reach an agreement.

Example Sentences

  1. The two neighbors were at loggerheads over the property boundary.
  2. The board members were at loggerheads on the new policy changes, causing a delay in the decision-making process.
  3. The city council and the mayor are at loggerheads over budget cuts, leading to heated debates.
  4. The two companies are at loggerheads over the merger terms, causing delays.
  5. Jane and her brother are at loggerheads about caring for their aging parents, making gatherings tense.

Origin and History

The idiom “at loggerheads” has an intriguing origin steeped in history and metaphor, with several multifaceted theories contributing to our understanding of its history.

Early Use and Meaning

The term “loggerhead” itself has been in use since at least the 16th century, primarily to describe a “stupid person” or “blockhead.” William Shakespeare famously used the word in this sense in his plays Love’s Labour’s Lost (1588) and The Taming of the Shrew (1590s), where he refers to characters as “logger-headed.”.

Nautical Origins

One prominent theory suggests that the idiom has nautical roots. In the 17th century, a “loggerhead” was an iron tool with a long handle and a bulbous end, used for various purposes on ships, including melting pitch for caulking. These tools could be used as makeshift weapons during disputes on board, leading to the phrase “at loggerheads” to describe fights or intense disagreements.

Village of Loggerheads

Another interesting theory connects the phrase to a geographical location. The village of Loggerheads in North Wales is said to be the site of a long-standing boundary dispute between two families. The local legend claims that this perpetual conflict gave rise to the idiom. Although this theory is more anecdotal, it adds a colorful dimension to the phrase’s history.

Evolution of the Phrase

By the late 17th century, the term “loggerhead” had expanded in meaning. Francis Kirkman’s The English Rogue (1680) uses “loggerheads” in the context of a quarrel, indicating that the phrase had already begun to signify conflict by that time. The 1681 publication ‘The Arraignment, Trial, and Condemnation of Stephen Colledge‘ further cemented the phrase in this context by directly linking loggerheads to fighting.

Modern Usage

Today, both British and American English widely use “at loggerheads” to describe strong disagreements, particularly those that result in a stalemate or deadlock. Despite its somewhat obscure origins, the idiom has endured as a vivid way to depict intractable conflicts in various contexts, from politics to personal relationships.

The idiom “at loggerheads” has a rich and varied history, with roots in both linguistic evolution and colorful folklore. Whether derived from the harsh realities of maritime life or the quaint disputes of a Welsh village, it remains a powerful expression of unresolved conflict.

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