Learn English – What does it imply when someone is called “Lucifer in the flesh”

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Washington Post (April 28) carried an article under the headline “John Boehner just called Ted Cruz ‘Lucifer in the flesh.’ He does this sometimes,” and the Stanford Daily (April 28) detailed the episode as:

“Segueing into the topic, Kennedy asked Boehner to be frank given that the event was not being broadcasted, and the former Speaker responded in kind. When specifically asked his opinions on Ted Cruz, Boehner made a face, drawing laughter from the crowd.

"Lucifer in the flesh," the former Speaker said. “I have Democrat friends and Republican friends. I get along with almost everyone, but I have never worked with a more miserable son of a bitch . in my life.”

Both Oxford and Cambridge English Dictionary defines “Lucifer” as another name for Satan.

What does “Lucifer in the flesh” used in this specific Boehner’s comment mean ? Does "flesh" here have any sexual connotation?

Best Answer

As you understand, Lucifer means the same thing as Satan, considered in Christianity to be the leader of evil spirits.

The word flesh sometimes has a sexual connotation, but not in this case. Here, it's part of an expression in the flesh, which the Cambridge English Dictionary defines as meaning "physically in ​front of you," with the example sentence "I’ve ​seen her ​perform on ​television, but never in the flesh." It's usually synonymous with the expression "in person."

In this case, since it is applied to an entity that is normally considered a spiritual being, it might also have a more literal meaning: not just "Lucifer, present in person" but "Lucifer in a physical human body." A synonym in this sense would be incarnate: we can say "Lucifer incarnate" to describe a person as evil.

It seems to me to have a strong, but vague meaning: "a very evil/bad/terrible person." I don't think the phrase carries any more specific connotations. In a religious context, the phrase might be used literally, but in most other cases it will just be a hyperbolic insult.