Fly in the Ointment – Idiom, Meaning & Origin

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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.

Have you ever had a situation that was just perfect, but then something small came along and spoiled it? If so, then you’re familiar with the experience, if not the phrase, a fly in the ointment. Let’s dissect this peculiar idiom and see what it’s all about so you can use it in a sentence.

Fly in the Ointment Meaning Explained

Fly in the Ointment – Idiom Meaning Origin

The idiom a fly in the ointment is meant to describe a minor flaw or problem that spoils an otherwise excellent situation. Think about it — a lovely pot of ointment, doing its ointment-y thing, then in zooms a fly, ruining the whole jar. It’s not the end of the world, but it’s certainly less than ideal!

Origin and Etymology of a Fly in the Ointment

Like a ton of other idioms and proverbs, this phrase buzzed its way into our vocabulary straight from the Bible.

It originates from Ecclesiastes 10:1 in King James:

“Dead flies cause the ointment of the apothecary to send forth a stinking savour: so doth a little folly him that is in reputation for wisdom and honour.”

Quite a mouthful, but the essence of the idiom has remained the same — small issues can ruin the overall perception!

Fly in the Ointment Synonyms

Of course, there are always other ways to say certain phrases, and here are just a few alternatives to a fly in the ointment.

  • A wrinkle
  • A hitch
  • Snag
  • A blip
  • A drawback
  • A spanner in the works
  • Monkey wrench

Sentence Examples of a Fly in the Ointment

Fly in the Ointment – Idiom Meaning Origin 1

  • The party was perfect, but the fly in the ointment was that they ran out of food too early.
  • Their vacation was wonderful, but the broken air conditioning in the hotel was definitely a fly in the ointment.
  • She loved her new apartment, but the noisy neighbors were a fly in the ointment.
  • The team’s performance was spectacular, but the star player’s injury was a real fly in the ointment.
  • His arrogance was the only fly in the ointment in an otherwise promising job interview.
  • She had planned everything for the wedding, but the rainy weather was a fly in the ointment.
  • The restaurant was fantastic, but the poor service was definitely a fly in the ointment.
  • The fly in the ointment of their new home was the small size of the kitchen.
  • They were all set for a grand celebration, but the unexpected power outage was a real fly in the ointment.
  • The project was going well until the budget cuts came along, which was quite a fly in the ointment.

Don’t Ignore the Fly in the Ointment!

Congrats! You’ve just conquered the idiom a fly in the ointment. Next time life throws you a curveball or a minor nuisance comes buzzing your way, tell yourself it’s just a fly in the ointment. Keep your swatter at the ready, and stick around for more idiom guides like this one!