Devil Take the Hindmost—A Reflection of Human Nature

Photo of author

Candace Osmond

Candace Osmond studied Advanced Writing & Editing Essentials at MHC. She’s been an International and USA TODAY Bestselling Author for over a decade. And she’s worked as an Editor for several mid-sized publications. Candace has a keen eye for content editing and a high degree of expertise in Fiction.

Devil take the hindmost means prioritizing self-interest and personal well-being over the welfare of others. This idiom reflects a self-centered attitude where individuals focus on personal gain, even if it means leaving others behind in pursuit of their own safety or success.

If you didn’t know, idioms like this one are metaphorical sayings whose meanings aren’t directly derived from the words they contain. They’re essential in the English language because they offer insight into cultural attitudes and historical contexts.

In this quick guide, I’ll dive into the details of what the idiom devil take the hindmost means, share some examples and variations, uncover its origin, and show you how it is used today. You can even quiz yourself on what you learned at the end!

What Does the Idiom Devil Take the Hindmost Mean?

The idiom devil take the hindmost means prioritizing one’s own interests and well-being without regard for others, especially those who may be vulnerable or unable to fend for themselves. It encapsulates a raw, unfiltered aspect of human nature. This idiom speaks to the survival instinct and self-preservation in situations where everyone is left to fend for themselves.

According to Collins Dictionary, the idiom devil take the hindmost means “to look after oneself and leave others to their fate.” Based on that definition, you can gather what type of people it’s referring to. We’ve all met someone just like that!

I’ve never used the phrase before, but I have experienced times when it would have fit perfectly. Back in my days as an interior designer, when I was just a budding apprentice, I worked with a few young colleagues like me on a big project for our boss.

We rocked it, but an older colleague took all our hard work and claimed it as her own, which then landed her a promotion. Not once did she even mention the work that we put into it. So, the devil really took the hindmost there.

Literal Meaning vs. Figurative Meaning

The literal meaning of devil take the hindmost is a scenario where the devil captures or harms those at the back of a group, aka the easy pickings. In a figurative sense, it symbolizes the harsh reality of competition or survival where only the fastest or strongest succeed, and the slower individuals are left to their fate.

Variations of the Idiom

Devil take the hindmost is the most common form you’ll find, but there are some variations of this idiom that maintain the same underlying meaning:

  • The devil gets the hindmost
  • The devil got the hindmost
  • The devil wants the hindmost (suggestive)
  • Devil-take-the-hindmost (adjective)

How Is Devil Take the Hindmost Commonly Used in Context?

This idiomatic expression is used in contexts that highlight the competitive nature of human beings or the harsh realities of life. It’s often invoked in discussions about business, sports, or any situation where personal success is paramount.

Read on as we explore the diverse applications of this expressive phrase, discover real-world examples highlighting its usage, and gain practical tips for incorporating it effectively into your language.

What Are the Different Ways to Use the Idiom Devil Take the Hindmost?

  • Competitive settings: In highly competitive careers. “The devil take the hindmost around here—you must be quick and ruthless if you want to succeed.”
  • To justify actions: Used when justifying self-centered decisions. “I had to look out for my own interests in that deal—devil take the hindmost.”
  • In historical contexts: When talking about cutthroat moments in time. “During the gold rush, it was a devil-take-the-hindmost time as everyone raced to claim their fortune.”
  • To predict outcomes: Used when anticipating situations where individuals might have to fend for themselves. “If resources become scarce, it’ll be devil take the hindmost.”

What Are Some Tips for Using the Idiom Devil Take the Hindmost Effectively?

  • Use this idiom to emphasize competitiveness or the lack of cooperation in just about any situation.
  • It’s best used in contexts where the harshness of the situation is already evident.
  • Avoid using it in sensitive situations where it might appear uncaring or harsh.
  • Always hyphenate the words in the phrase when using it as an adjective before a noun.

Where Can You Find Examples of the Idiom Devil Take the Hindmost?

You might come across this idiom in historical documentaries and literature discussing human nature or in movies set in competitive environments.

For instance, in one of my favorite books (now a popular movie series), The Hunger Games, the concept of devil take the hindmost is a recurring theme in the politically driven plot.

But to get more specific, the phrase doubles as the title of a book written in 2000 by Edward Chancellor. It’s a history of financial speculation, so the title fits pretty well.

It’s also a phrase that sometimes pops up in news and media outlets, like this example that uses it as an adjective:

His first major speech railed against “corporate greed and devil-take-the-hindmost individualism,” “extractive and exploitative political systems” and the “selfish agenda” of vested interests. (The Guardian)

What Is the Origin of the Idiom Devil Take the Hindmost?

devil take the hindmost Ngram
Devil take the hindmost usage trend.

The idiom devil take the hindmost originated from the 16th century. It reflects the brutal realities of life during that era, where safety and success were often a matter of speed and strength. 

However, some believe the idiom has its roots in children’s games such as tag, where the individual left behind is considered the loser. But, by the 16th century, the interpretation of the phrase had evolved to signify selfishness.

It’s considered an early 16th-century proverb and was first used in print back in 1611 when Beaumont and Fletcher used it in a play called Philaster, or Love Lies a-Bleeding, “They run all away, and cry, ‘the devil take the hindmost.'”

How Did the Idiom Evolve Over Time?

It was initially used in literal contexts of danger, but the idiom has evolved to symbolize competitive or challenging situations in modern times.

What Are Some Related Terms to Devil Take the Hindmost?

Synonyms are just alternatives to common words and sayings and help us mix things up so that we’re not so repetitive. Consider using some of these the next time you want to express the idea behind the devil take the hindmost.


  • Dog eat dog
  • Sink or swim
  • Every man for himself
  • Survival of the fittest
  • You snooze, you lose


Devil Take the Hindmost: Test Your Knowledge!

Choose the correct answer.

What Have We Learned about Devil Take the Hindmost?

The phrase devil take the hindmost is an older idiom that reflects a stark aspect of human nature, emphasizing self-interest and competitiveness. It means putting yourself and your own safety and needs before everyone else. Its usage in the English language provides a window into historical and cultural attitudes towards survival and success. Cool, right?

I covered all the essential details about its true meaning, including its literal and figurative uses. I shared some variations and facts about its origin and even showed you how to use it in sentences. You should be all set!

If you want to learn about even more cool idioms like this one, spend some time on our site. There are hundreds of guides!