At Loggerheads

Meaning of the Idiom ‘at Loggerheads’

To be ‘at loggerheads’ means to be engaged in a quarrelsome argument; strongly disagreeing. This somewhat formal idiom tends to carry the connotation of being unable to reach an agreement.


“The union has been at loggerheads with management on the benefits package for months now.”

“Peace talks are ongoing, but the delegates are at loggerheads on the subject of reparations.”


Loggerhead was used as early as the sixteenth century to describe a stupid person. The word meant something akin to blockhead or dunderhead. For example, Shakespeare used the term in The Taming of the Shrew:

Petruchio: “You logger-headed and unpolis’d grooms! What, no attendance? No regard? No duty?

The word ‘logger’ was often used to describe something like a block of wood tied to a horse to keep the horse from wandering (somewhat like a ball and chain).

However, the origin of the idiom appears to be nautical, from the 17th century. There are actually two objects on sailing ships called a loggerhead. One, unique to whaling vessels, was a large wooden bit mounted on the stern of the ship and used to wind the harpoon line when a whale was caught. A loggerhead was also a rod of iron with a large knob on one end. This knob was heated and dipped into buckets or pitch to melt it so it could be used for caulking. The pitch caulking between deck boards had to be regularly removed and repitched, for example. These “loggerheads” were presumably used as convenient weapons, thus leading to the figurative use “at loggerheads.”

The only other use of the term loggerhead, today, is in the name of the loggerhead turtle.

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