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QUICK QUOTE

Idiom

Play the devil’s advocate

Meaning

To offer an alternate opinion/point of view. Normally, if you play the devil’s advocate, you say something that you don’t really believe because you want to have an argument or test someone else’s opinion.

Origin

Play the devil’s advocate This phrase came into the English language in the 18th century from the Latin phrase ‘advocatus diaboli’. There are mentions in the Vatican records dating from the 1500s of a casual job role called the ‘Diaboli Advocatus’, which didn’t really have negative connotations. In 1587, Pope Sixtus V made this role a more formal one as the ‘Promoter of the Faith’, colloquially described as the ‘Advocatus Diaboli’. The role was a strange one. It didn’t involve much work, until someone was meant to be canonised or beatified (i.e. made a saint), at which point the ‘Devil’s Advocate’ would be called in to work out a list of arguments against the nominee’s canonisation.

The role was removed in 1983, at which point over 400 new saints were canonised over the following 20 years. Allegedly, in modern times the Vatican might still employ ad-hoc Devil’s Advocates such as in 2003 for the Beatification of Mother Theresa.

Examples

Sometimes, when preparing for a debate, it is necessary to play devil’s advocate to see the argument from both sides.

If you don’t play devil’s advocate to your own ideas, you will never see all sides of the situation.

It is a lawyer’s duty to play the part of devil’s advocate before presenting their argument.

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