be in a cleft stick

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be (or be caught) in a cleft stick

be in a difficult situation, when any action you take will have adverse consequences. chiefly British
Cleft is one of the forms of the past participle of cleave , in its basic meaning of ‘divide with a cutting blow’ or ‘split’. The other form still current in standard English is cloven , and the two words tend to be used in different contexts: we find a cleft stick and a cleft palate but a cloven hoof .
See also: cleft, stick

be (caught) in a cleft ˈstick

(informal) be in a difficult situation when any action you take will have bad results: I was in a cleft stick — my job was boring but I couldn’t move to another firm without losing my company pension.
See also: cleft, stick