Double Edged Sword – Meaning, Origin and Usage

Are you looking for a way to describe a situation that could have dual outcomes? You could say it’s a “double-edged sword.” This post unpacks the meaning and origin of this expression.


The expression “double-edged sword” means a situation or decision that could have dual outcomes. Typically, one situation will be favorable and the primary weighting in the decision. The second outcome could have an adverse effect or be something unexpected with a negative impact.

The phrase applies to personal and business decisions. In most cases, the “double-edged sword” refers to the positive aspect of the situation or decision being enough to risk the negative outcome. In some cases, it can refer to something good coming about due to a bad result.

If you have a double-edged sword in your hands, you must make a tough decision. You might not have any choice but to assume the risk to achieve what you want.

Example Usage

“I know things are tight financially, and you want us to use the credit card to pay the bills. However, buying things on credit is a double-edged sword. It helps us now, but we’ll suffer in the future.”

“That deal is a double-edged sword. Sure, the company will benefit from implementing the process, but what happens when we have to hire a new team to update the software?”

“The situation is somewhat of a double-edged sword. If we go one way, it might benefit us but cause problems in the future. If we do the other, we hurt now, but the future looks bright.”

“The Fed’s monetary policy is a double-edged sword. If they raise interest, we avoid a recession, but the stock market tanks.”

“Releasing the oil from the SPR is a double-edged sword. It will help gas prices in the short term. However, when they have to replenish it, prices will soar due to the demand for millions of barrels.”

“We’re dealing with a double-edged sword here. If we decide we want to do this, it might come back to bite us in a few months.”

“This situation is a double-edged sword for the Lakers. They’ll win this game and keep the undefeated streak going, but they’ll face a stronger team in the playoffs.”


The expression "double-edged sword" originates from the Arabic saying "سَيْف ذُو حَدَيْن," which holds the same meaning as the English translation. The English version of the proverbial expression has been popular since the 1500s.

Historians point to the mention of an iteration of the expression in the Holy Bible, where it appears in Hebrews 4:12 as a description of God's word.

"quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword."

Phrases Similar to Double Edged Sword

  • Catch-22.

Phrases Opposite to Double Edged Sword

  • Clear result.
  • One outcome.
  • This is it.

What is the Correct Saying?

  • Double-edged sword.

Ways People May Say Double Edged Sword Incorrectly

The phrase has nothing to do with a sword. The “sword” in the saying is a decision or outcome. By saying it has a double edge, you infer that the result could swing in both directions. You might get the result you want or what you don’t expect.

Acceptable Ways to Phrase Double Edged Sword

You can use the expression “double-edged sword” when referring to a situation or action with a dual outcome that’s both beneficial and unwanted. It’s a similar phrase to “catch-22,” where the result may be the opposite of what you want, and there is no clear solution. The term suits social and professional use.

Use it at work to describe how a deal or a financing arrangement is a double-edged sword. If you take the deal, it may show short-term benefits but may cause disaster in the future. You could say using a credit card is a double-edged sword. It gives you access to money now, but you pay for it with a high-interest rate on the credit you take.

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