caught between two stools
caught (or fall) between two stools
- come between two alternatives, and so fail to fulfill either of them
- fail due to difficulty in choosing between two alternatives
- fail to achieve either of two contrasting aims
- This book cannot be an academic one nor can it be a popular commercial one; it falls between two stools.
- It is difficult to organize an event that appeals to both young and old; you could end up being caught between two stools.
- This car neither has good power nor gives good mileage; it falls between two stools.
- Do not try to be both a teacher and a friend to your students; you would be caught between two stools.
- This tutorial is too complicated for a beginner and too simple for an advanced student. It falls between two stools.
- Don’t try to club a relaxing vacation with an adventurous one; it would fall between two stools.
This is an old phrase and was first cited in the late 1300s. The first recorded modern use is in Matthew Prior’s comic poem Alma; or, The Progress of the Mind, written in 1717.
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Unfortunately, no website explains why stools are used in this idiom. It just sounds odd.
- MJ June 19, 2019