Fly in the ointment

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A fly in the ointment is an idiom that has its origins in a text written thousands of years ago. We will look at the meaning of the phrase a fly in the ointment, the origins of this phrase and some examples of its use in sentences.

A fly in the ointment describes something slightly irritating that ruins the overall picture, the enjoyment or success of a situation. A fly in the ointment is a minor drawback that keeps someone from proclaiming a complete success. The idiom fly in the ointment most probably has its roots in the Old Testament, in the book of Ecclesiastes. In the King James version, translated in the early 1600s, the passage reads: “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.” Well over one hundred idioms in common usage can be traced to the King James translation of the Bible. Interestingly, the first use of the idiom a fly in the ointment didn’t appear in the English language until early in the 1700s, in the book A Practical Treatise Concerning Humility by John Norris.


The Germans insisted on three last-minute clauses that would allow them to back away from CETA should country’s courts find a fly in the ointment. (Deutsche Welle)

“The one real fly in the ointment right now that really needs to be addressed is our ability to churn out quality starts from our rotation,” he said. (The Los Angeles Times)

But here is the fly in the ointment: World-renowned Nuclear Physicist and UFO researcher Stanton Friedman has put forth the notion that only 1-10 people actually report what they see. (The Syracuse New Times)