in a cleft stick

in a cleft stick

In a problematic or difficult situation; having only undesirable or unfavorable options from which to choose. (From the image of being wedged into a crack in a stick, unable to move.) Primarily heard in UK, Australia. Well, we're caught in a cleft stick now! Do we start pushing the car towards town, or hope that someone passes by with a can of petrol? With such unlikable candidates, the public has been left in a cleft stick.
See also: cleft, stick

in a cleft stick

BRITISH, OLD-FASHIONED
If you are in a cleft stick, you are in a difficult situation which you cannot solve easily. I'm in something of a cleft stick — whatever I do, I'll upset someone. Note: This expression may refer to the practice of trapping snakes by holding them down behind the head with a cleft stick (= stick that is Y-shaped at the end).
See also: cleft, stick
References in classic literature ?
Just as I had written the last word, a Kafir came up my avenue of orange trees, carrying a letter in a cleft stick, which he had brought from the post.
Not more than any other youngster did he like to eat dirt or to be misjudged, but he saw himself in a cleft stick.