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a sword of Damocles hangs over (one's) head

One is faced with imminent danger or trouble. In Greek mythology, the courtier Damocles was forced to sit beneath a sword suspended by a single hair to emphasize the instability of a king's fortunes. I know his history of violent behavior, so I feel like a sword of Damocles hangs over my head whenever I'm alone with him. With the threat of nuclear war, many feel that a sword of Damocles hangs over the world's head.
See also: Damocles, hang, head, of, sword

a sword of Damocles hangs over somebody's head

  (literary) also a sword of Damocles hangs over somebody (literary)
if a sword of Damocles hangs over someone, they are in a situation where something bad is likely to happen to them very soon
Usage notes: This phrase comes from a story about Damocles who had to eat his food with a sword hanging over him which was tied up by a single hair.
You live with this sword of Damocles hanging over your head, knowing that you carry the virus for a deadly disease.
See also: Damocles, hang, head, of, sword

sword of Damocles

Also, Damocles' sword. Impending disaster, as in The likelihood of lay-offs has been a sword of Damocles over the department for months. This expression alludes to the legend of Damocles, a servile courtier to King Dionysius I of Syracuse. The king, weary of Damocles' obsequious flattery, invited him to a banquet and seated him under a sword hung by a single hair, so as to point out to him the precariousness of his position. The idiom was first recorded in 1747. The same story gave rise to the expression hang by a thread.
See also: Damocles, of, sword

sword of Damocles

An imminent and/or constant threat. According to Greek legend, Damocles, a friend of King Dionysius of Syracuse, envied the ruler's great wealth and power. When Damocles told the king how fortunate he was, Dionysius offered to change places for a day. As Damocles dined at the head of the table, he happened to look up. There above his head, held by only a single horsehair, hung a sharp sword pointing downward toward his chair. Frozen with fear that the thread would break, he pointed out the predicament to the king. Dionysius nodded, acknowledging that the sword was a constant factor in his life, an actual and a metaphoric reminder that some person or circumstance might at any time cut the thread. Such risk, the king added, comes as an integral part of power. Any ever-present risk, especially one that's hanging by a thread, is how the phrase has been used.
See also: Damocles, of, sword
References in periodicals archive ?
He is made to attend court, to be given a nine-month conditional discharge (A sword of Damocles to him).
The sentence has also been reduced because of your guilty plea but you must accept that you will now spend the next 18 months with the Sword of Damocles hanging over you.
THE threat of administration - and subsequent points deductions - hangs over League Two clubs like the sword of Damocles so punters are advised to tread carefully when betting on relegation.
Kilt-wearing violinist Olli Vnsk worked the fans into such a stupor that one responded by waving his four-foot imitation weapon aloft as though it was the Sword of Damocles itself.
Cardiff will probably lose Ledley and maybe Chopra with the Sword of Damocles (taxman) hanging over them - and if they owe the taxman they probably owe other creditors too.
Bosses should get at least a full season to see whether they can do the job without having a sword of Damocles hanging over them.
But with the prospect of missing flights at Liverpool due to security queues now hanging over passengers like the sword of Damocles, people are understandably losing patience.
It hangs like the sword of Damocles over the ticket sellers' heads (inset).
CHESTER CITY'S new manager Jim Harvey is relishing the task ahead, despite the current punitive points deduction which is hanging over the Blue Square Premier League club like a Sword of Damocles.
Summary: With the Damocles sword hanging over either ally and wanting to extract more seats from allies, India's two major national parties are huddled to cobble alliances with regional and smaller parties as the national poll juggernaut is set to roll this week with the issue of notification for the first phase of polls on April 16.
The point of the matter is it's like they have some type of Damocles (sword) hanging over their head because they haven't made the playoffs.
If there are financial uncertainties placed over their heads, hanging like the sword of Damocles, what is likely to be their attitude if clubs from other countries, such as England and France, come calling?
Bingham said that legislative proposals to auction spectrum currently reserved for the transition to digital television "hang like a sword of Damocles over this digital revolution.
We've got 150,000 employees in [councils], we can't just have the sword of Damocles hanging over them.
The Sword of Damocles is poised over at least a couple, though, so it's hardly time for complacency.