And you thought your job was hard.
We’ve all heard popular idioms like “biting the bullet” and “speaking of the devil,” but it’s tough to figure out where they originated. “Biting the bullet” is rumored to come from soldiers biting on a bullet to endure pain during surgery. “Speaking of the devil” is a little harder to pinpoint. Its origins date back to 16th-century literature, but have no true context. Fortunately, we know the true meaning behind the phrase “playing the devil’s advocate.”
Generally, when thinking of a person “playing devil’s advocate,” we think of someone arguing just for a the sake of arguing. Turns out, the popular saying sources back to a practice rooted in 18th-century Catholicism.
Much like the idiom, real devil’s advocates did argue for the sake of debate, but for a reasonable cause. Up until 1983, the canonization process featured a person who’d argue to the Vatican why a candidate didn’t deserve to be a saint. This practice was a test to prove the candidate could endure any skepticism.
Pope John Paul II abolished the practice in the ’80s, but by that point, the saying was popular amongst secular audiences. For example, you have people “playing the devil’s advocate” while trying to justify why the pink Starburst is better than the red. It’s not.
So the next time you decide to play devil’s advocate, justify it by saying you’re doing the Lord’s work.