caught between two stools

caught (or fall) between two stools

Meaning:

  • come between two alternatives, and so fail to fulfill either of them
  • fail due to difficulty in choosing between two alternatives
  • fail to achieve either of two contrasting aims

Examples:

  1. This book cannot be an academic one nor can it be a popular commercial one; it falls between two stools.
  2. It is difficult to organize an event that appeals to both young and old; you could end up being caught between two stools.
  3. This car neither has good power nor gives good mileage; it falls between two stools.
  4. Do not try to be both a teacher and a friend to your students; you would be caught between two stools.
  5. This tutorial is too complicated for a beginner and too simple for an advanced student. It falls between two stools.
  6. Don’t try to club a relaxing vacation with an adventurous one; it would fall between two stools.

Origin:
This is an old phrase and was first cited in the late 1300s. The first recorded modern use is in Matthew Prior’s comic poem Alma; or, The Progress of the Mind, written in 1717.

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