a/the sword of Damocles

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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 danger.
When the courtier Damocles described Dionysius I, ruler of Syracuse ( 405–367 bc ), as the happiest of men, Dionysius gave him a graphic demonstration of the fragility of his happiness: he invited Damocles to a banquet, in the middle of which he looked up to see a naked sword suspended over his head by a single hair.
See also: Damocles, of, sword

a/the sword of ˈDamocles

(literary) a bad or unpleasant thing that might happen to you at any time and that makes you feel worried or frightened: Now the news of my divorce is public, I’m relieved in a way. It had been hanging over my head like the sword of Damocles.This expression comes from the Greek legend in which Damocles had to sit at a meal with a sword hanging by a single hair above his head. He had praised King Dionysius’ happiness, and Dionysius wanted him to understand how quickly happiness can be lost.
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 ?
For physicians, the sword of Damocles grows larger annually.
And because she knows about the stolen money, she's holding the Sword of Damocles over him.
And, of course, the al-Sadr rebellion in Najaf hung over the conference like the sword of Damocles.
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Don't make us read the footnotes to find out that the sword of Damocles hovers over your neck.
Bankruptcy is the Sword of Damocles hanging over the head of the Anglican Church of Canada.
Still, all these years, the case has continuously been hanging over the heads of defendants like the sword of Damocles,' his motion read in part.
The Celtic's fans' regular misconduct in Europe must be hanging over the club like the sword of Damocles.
To cap it all, the Sword of Damocles of work meant that I couldn't even slope off to the pub.
8m reduction by voluntary means has been set for payroll costs reduction, but this will only account for 7% of this year's spending cuts, and that assumes that everybody touched by the sword of Damocles falls on it without hesitation
Wales have lost five out of five under Coleman, and a William Hill spokesman said: "Although his tenure has only lasted a few games, the Sword of Damocles is swinging closer to Coleman.
The Sword of Damocles is poised over at least a couple, though, so it's hardly time for complacency.
On a national level, Peter Spencer, chief economic advisor to the Ernst & Young ITEM Club, said there were a lot of risks to the UK: "The risks to the world economy and the Eurozone are plain to see, starting with the Greek default which hangs like the sword of Damocles over Europe, threatening a domino effect on Portugal and Ireland, followed perhaps by Spain and Italy.
How much longer must the 31,000 Southern Cross residents, their families and the 44,000 staff have the sword of Damocles hanging over their heads before government steps in, takes Southern Cross by the scruff of the neck and restores confidence and calm?
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.
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