Learn English idioms | The sword of Damocles
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The way we use the full expression is: ‘It’s like having the sword of Damocles hanging over you’. This is an expression that means being in a situation that is quite risky, dangerous and insecure. So you might think you're in a good position, you might think you're safe, but if you have the sword of Damocles hanging over you, it means that something very bad could happen to you at any time.
So let's say, for example, you're at work and you are the boss at work and you feel you have a lot of power over your employees, but there's always a risk that something might go wrong and you might lose your job, so even though you're the boss, if there's a problem you might lose your job and so having that power is like having a sword hanging over your head.
This is a very old story and it refers to an old king called Dionysius and one of his subjects, Damocles, was always saying how great it must be to have so much power and control and Dionysius got bored of hearing Damocles say these things about how good it was to have so much control and so much power, so one day he invited Damocles to sit in his seat. Damocles was very excited about this, but then he looked up and he saw that there was a big sword hanging over his head and it was hanging by one thin hair. Dionysius told him that this is what power was like. You could lose power at any time and having power and control and influence was a great risk.So this is where we get the expression from, ‘to have the sword of Damocles hanging over your head’.