The Meaning of Double Edged Sword: What It Is and How To Use It

Have you ever wondered what the phrase double edged sword means? This guide will give you all of the information you need on the phrase double edged sword, including its meaning, usage, synonyms, origin, and more!

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What does the phrase double edged sword mean?

According to Merriam-Webster English Dictionary, Your Dictionary, and other dictionary apps, the English phrase double edged sword, also seen as “double-edged sword,” is an idiom that describes something that has or can have both positive and negative effects or favorable and unfavorable consequences. This is often used to describe something that has both good and bad aspects to it, or when making a choice where something bad happening is inevitable. This is a benefit that is also a liability, or something that while it may seem positive, also comes with risks or potential obvious costs. 

Someone might have to make a decision between two options that are both double-edged swords. In this case, they may choose to make a pros and cons list, or enlist their friends to help them weigh the positives and negatives and make a decision. For example, if someone got the opportunity to leave their current job in exchange for an amazing opportunity, but the new job required them to move across the country, this would be a double-edged sword for some. If the person likes where they live, the negatives would be having to move and having to leave their friends behind, while the positives would be an amazing opportunity for career advancement and a higher paycheck.

This idiom is also present in many other languages. The below list of translations is provided by Word Sense.

  • French: arme à double tranchant‎ (fem.)
  • Mandarin: 雙刃劍‎, 双刃剑‎ (shuāngrènjiàn) (a double-edged sword)
  • Russian: па́лка о двух конца́х‎ (fem.) (a stick with two ends), обоюдоо́стрый меч‎ (masc.) (a double-edged sword)
  • Romanian: sabie cu doua taisuri‎ (fem.)
  • Italian: arma a doppio taglio‎ (fem.)
  • Malay: serampang dua mata‎
  • Korean: 양날의 검‎ (yangnar-ui geom) (a double-edged sword)
  • Polish: miecz obosieczny‎ (masc.)
  • German: zweischneidiges Schwert‎ (neut.)
  • Finnish: kaksiteräinen miekka‎
  • Danish: tveægget sværd‎ (neut.)
  • Arabic: سَيْف ذُو حَدَيْن‎ (masc.)
  • Hebrew: חֶרֶב פִּיפִיּוֹת‎
  • Greek: δίκοπο μαχαίρι‎ (neut.)
  • Japanese: 諸刃の剣‎ (もろはのつるぎ, moroha no tsurugi) (a double-edged sword)
  • Swedish: tveeggat svärd‎ (neut.)
  • Dutch: tweesnijdend zwaard‎ (neut.)
  • Spanish: arma de doble filo‎ (fem.) (a double-edged weapon), arma de dos filos‎ (fem.) (a double-edged weapon)
  • Persian: تیغ دو لبه‎ (fa)
  • Czech: dvousečný meč‎ (masc.) (a double-edged sword)
  • Portuguese: faca de dois gumes‎ (fem.) (a knife with two edges)

What is the etymology of the phrase double edged sword?

According to The Village Idiom and Word Sense, the phrase double edged sword may have originated from the Arabic expression of the same meaning, “سَيْف ذُو حَدَيْن.” Additionally, in the Bible, the word of God is described as being “sharper than a double-edged sword.” This idiom was first used in the 15th century. This expression likely did not originate in English because English swords are almost exclusively double-edged, whereas Arabic and Eastern swords are curved and edged on only one side. Thus, it would make more sense to specify that the sword is indeed double-edged.

What are synonyms for the phrase double edged sword?

There are a few different phrases that one can also use to describe something that has both good and bad qualities. Someone might choose to use a synonym, which is a word or phrase that has the same definition as another word or phrase, in order to avoid repeating themselves multiple times or in order to expand their current vocabulary. THis list of synonyms is provided by Macmillan Dictionary & Thesaurus.

  • spotty
  • patchy
  • mixed bag
  • the rights and wrongs of something
  • Doubtful advantage
  • pis allier
  • cut both ways
  • six of one, (and) half a dozen of the other
  • work both ways
  • mixed
  • two-edged
  • a two-edged sword
  • mixed blessing

How can the phrase double edged sword be used in a sentence?

The phrase double-edged sword can be used to describe many different things that have both positives and negatives to them. This is considered a polite phrase, so one does not need to worry about it being too casual for certain situations. In this first example, Tai has just gotten laid off from her job. She talks to her friend Diane.

Diane: I’m so sorry you got laid off. Is there anything I can do?

Tai: Not really. I’m bummed. Although I guess it is a bit of a double-edged sword.

Diane: Why is that?

Tai: I hated that job. I dreaded going to that place every single day. Sure, I would be happy to be employed right now, but maybe this is just the change I needed. It’s giving me the opportunity to go and get a job that I really like.

Diane: That’s an amazing perspective to have.

In this next example, Carly has just been notified that she received a full ride scholarship to her dream school, but her boyfriend Tom has not been accepted.

Tom: Carly, why do you look so sad? I’m so proud of you!

Carly: I am happy, it’s just it feels like a bit of a double edged sword.

Tom: Why?

Carly: Yes, it’s my dream school, and I feel so lucky to get the change to go there on a full ride, but I was also really looking forward to going to school with you.

Tom: Carly, there are plenty of other colleges in Boston. Even if I didn’t get in there, that doesn’t mean we can’t still see each other.

Overall, the phrase double edged sword is used to describe something that has both good and bad qualities, or something that has both advantages and disadvantages. If someone has to make a decision about something that is a double-edged sword, they might choose to make a pros and cons list or enlist the opinions of others to help them decide what they are going to do.