I saw the movie "Love Hard" yesterday. In the film, the little brother hates his big brother.

The little brother is at home and suddenly he hears his big brother's voice when the big brother visits him.

The little brother says "Speak of the devil"

The dictionary just says

speak/talk of the devil

​(informal) people say speak/talk of the devil when somebody they have been talking about appears unexpectedly

Well, speak of the devil—here's Alice now!

It did not say whether the speaker hates the arriver or not.

I really respect my grandma, and when my grandma suddenly visits my house.

Is it rude to say "Speak of the devil- Here is Grandma now!"?

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    It's not rude, though if someone is sensitive to disrespect, they might take it as a slight.
    – gotube
    Commented Nov 18, 2021 at 2:51
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    Btw, in your examples no-one has been speaking of the person who arrives. We wouldn't use the expression in that case. Or did you just not mention them? I agree with gotube's comment. In the UK at least - the expression is generally seen as good-natured and mildly amusing. Commented Nov 18, 2021 at 5:47
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    @Mazura: In practice, that's a very unlikely interpretation, since if the earlier conversants had been saying nasty things about the person who's just arrived, they'd probably stop talking, or change the subject. You don't openly say Oh, Hi! We were just talking about you! unless you were either saying nice/neutral things, or you're incredibly rude. Commented Nov 18, 2021 at 13:37
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    @StianYttervik - I'm not at all sure that your Arabic expression would be 'easily accepted' in English. Indeed, in the British climate some people have a superstition that, if you see the sun coming out on a cloudy day, you shouldn't mention it in case doing so makes it disappear again! Commented Nov 18, 2021 at 13:59
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    Most people probably wouldn't have a problem with this, but I don't know your grandma. If she's super-religious, it could be a problem for her even mentioning the devil - I've known people who take offense that easily. But such people are by far in the minority in my experience. Commented Nov 18, 2021 at 14:21

4 Answers 4


This phrase comes from a very old superstition that naming the Devil would cause him to appear — see The Phrase Finder.

Over the centuries it has developed into a light-hearted saying that doesn't imply hatred of the person arriving, though it would depend on your relationship with them (and the tone in which you said it) whether you thought it was appropriate. I seem to remember my own grandmother, many years ago, saying "Talking of angels..." instead, but I can't find any reference online to this or similar expressions, so maybe it was her own invention.

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    Just to remind you that the devil was an angel before the fall so "speaking of the devil" could be construed as talking of an angel. I may be being too poetic
    – MD-Tech
    Commented Nov 18, 2021 at 12:05
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    I'd go as far as to say tone is possibly most important for this one. With a cheeky or upbeat tone it's very unlikely to offend, but saying it while sounding tired or exasperated will almost certainly come across as passive-aggressive. But then I guess the same is true for a lot of phrases.
    – user81621
    Commented Nov 18, 2021 at 12:40
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    Did your grandmother also say "heck" and "darn" (instead of "hell" and "damn")? Commented Nov 18, 2021 at 19:34
  • @DoctorPenguin I would generally agree with your sentiment but it's no guarantee that any of those listening might take offense whether or not it was intended. I might say something like this but only if I knew those present fairly well and knew they would understand that I was joking.
    – JeffC
    Commented Nov 18, 2021 at 19:46
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    @KeithMcClary - The only expletive I ever remember her using was the occasional 'blast'. When I, as a child, was told off for using it, I replied "But Granny says it!" Commented Nov 19, 2021 at 9:08

Your tone of voice, the relation with the recipient and the events prior to the appearance of said person determine whether it's acceptable to use that phrase.

It can be considered rude or offensive when the person in question wasn't actually being discussed, but something or someone else. For example:

Some work isn't getting done on time, because you're understaffed and also someone has called in sick for a few days. You're discussing this with a coworker, complaining how you have to work hard and not everyone is pulling their weight. Now the recovered colleague comes in, and you say to the other one: "speak of the devil" (implying the sick coworker wasn't working hard enough, but instead being at home, doing nothing).

Even when just said in jest, with a smile, someone could take offense to it because you're associating them with (often negative) behavior that may not actually apply to them.


"Speak of the devil" would be an insult, except that in modern conversation, it is almost always said sarcastically, just to note to coincidence of someone appearing just as you're speaking about them.

The sarcasm needs to be obvious, and you should only say this about someone if you're in a position to gently, sarcastically chide them.

You could certainly say this loudly, without giving insult, when a child that you're speaking about comes into the room.

You might be able to say this when you're talking about your boss and he walks into the room, unless you have a bad relationship with him.

If your boss comes into the room and you whisper this to a colleague so that your boss can't hear, then it is an insult to your boss. If you whisper it so that your boss can hear, then it's a brazen insult.

If you're an average worker chatting about the CEO when he walks into the room, then you should not say this, because it presumes a relationship to him that would allow you to say it.

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    There's nothing insulting or sarcastic about this phrase as commonly used. I don't say "speak of the devil" sarcastically to fake-insult someone but with tone to make it clear I'm not serious. I don't have to, because the phrase just doesn't mean that - it's simply, "Oh look, here is the person we were just talking about!" (or a person who somehow represents the concept we were just talking about).
    – amalloy
    Commented Nov 19, 2021 at 19:58
  • making it clear with tone that you're not serious is exactly sarcasm. Commented Nov 19, 2021 at 23:54
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    Yes, and I'm saying you don't have to use tone to do that in this case because there is no sarcasm or pretend-insult.
    – amalloy
    Commented Nov 20, 2021 at 1:19
  • OIC. Well, you're just mistaken, then. Commented Nov 20, 2021 at 1:48
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    I don't think "sarcasm" is the correct word. Sarcasm would be "Oh, look, our favorite person has arrived!" when the person is an enemy, or at least a rival. Teasing someone you like by likening them to an evil being is the opposite of that. Commented Nov 20, 2021 at 7:41

Look For Irony

As it is, yes, this is often rude, as you're equating the presence of this person with the presence of the devil: unwanted and unfortunate. However, this saying in modern contexts is often said ironically, particularly about a good friend.

So we're stuck looking for additional context clues. Was this muttered out of earshot of the person in question? It probably has its original meaning. Was it said with a smile and openly? It was probably said ironically.

Both uses are valid. In my experience, it is usually said ironically in real-life conversation, but usually said seriously in fiction.

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