Pulling Teeth – Idiom, Meaning and 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.

Like pulling teeth is an idiom indicating that something is exceptionally difficult or unpleasant, especially when it requires cooperation from an unwilling participant. For instance, have you ever tried to convince your cat to take a bath? It’s like pulling teeth.

The origin of this phrase can be traced back to the genuine difficulty of dental extractions, a scenario many dread. Yet, over time, its figurative meaning has become deeply ingrained in the English language. Idioms, such as this, are metaphorical expressions rooted in real-life experiences.

To use like pulling teeth effectively, it’s essential to grasp both its meaning and origin. Continue reading, and you’ll find examples to enhance your understanding.

Pulling Teeth Meaning

Pulling Teeth – Idiom Meaning and Origin

Like pulling teeth or simply pulling teeth is an idiom that emphasizes a certain task’s difficulty, frustration, or tediousness. It’s especially used when trying to get information or cooperation from someone reluctant. For example, convincing an active toddler to sleep can feel like pulling teeth.

This expression is often labeled an idiom because it doesn’t hold a direct, literal meaning. However, given the use of the word like to draw a comparison between two things, it technically leans more towards being a simile.

Pulling Teeth Idiom Origin

Like Pulling Teeth Ngram
Like pulling teeth usage trend.

The phrase like pulling teeth derives from the genuine discomfort and difficulty associated with extracting a tooth, especially in the absence of modern dentistry techniques.

An early documented use of this phrase can be found in a New Jersey publication from 1835, stating, “The Richmond Whig thus utters its expiring moan on the subject of the recent elections in Virginia. It is honest and candid, but such a confession must be like pulling teeth.”

While this is among the earliest recorded instances of the expression, the underlying sentiment of the phrase probably existed well before it was put into writing.

Synonyms for the Pulling Teeth Expression

  • Like herding cats
  • Getting blood from a stone
  • An uphill battle
  • Like kicking a dead horse
  • Getting water from a rock
  • Drawing water from a dry well
  • Like nailing jelly to a wall
  • A hard row to hoe
  • Chasing the wind

Examples of Using Like Pulling Teeth in a Sentence

Pulling Teeth – Idiom Meaning and Origin 1

  • Convincing my little brother to apologize was like pulling teeth.
  • Trying to get a simple answer from politicians can sometimes feel like pulling teeth.
  • Assembling that IKEA shelf was like pulling teeth without the manual.
  • Interviewing the cagey celebrity was like pulling teeth for the new journalist.
  • It’s like pulling teeth to get my students to turn off their cell phones during class time.
  • Collecting monthly dues for the neighborhood committee is like pulling teeth every time.
  • Persuading Grandma to share her secret recipes before she dies is always like pulling teeth.
  • Getting the marketing team to agree on one idea felt like pulling teeth.
  • I tried to engage the guy in conversation during the blind date, but it was like pulling teeth.
  • Organizing a reunion for a class that never had a sense of time? Yep, it’s like pulling teeth.

Keep Prying

The idiom like pulling teeth beautifully captures the feeling of a task so painstaking that it feels like an actual dental extraction. But it’s just one of many idioms that can elevate your words, so check out hundreds of other awesome guides from our site!