Like pulling teeth

Like pulling teeth is an idiom. An idiom is a word, group of words or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Often using descriptive imagery, common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often spoken or are considered informal or conversational. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase that has a literal meaning, even when the etymology or origin of the idiomatic expression is lost. An idiom is a metaphorical figure of speech, and it is understood that it is not a use of literal language. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions such as chip on your shoulder, jump the gun, let the cat out of the bag, under the weather, barking up the wrong tree, piece of cake, beat a dead horse, let sleeping dogs lie,when pigs fly, and raining cats and dogs, as they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker. We will examine the meaning of the expression like pulling teeth, where it came from and some examples of its use in sentences.

The phrase like pulling teeth describes something that is difficult to do, something that requires a lot of effort, something that is tedious, tiring or unpleasant. Something that is like pulling teeth usually requires unremitting effort that is exhausting and frustrating. For instance, trying to coax a picky child into eating his spinach may be like pulling teeth. Like pulling teeth is also a simile, which is a phrase used in a sentence that is a comparison of one thing with something else using the word like or the word as. A simile may compare two things with qualities that do not seem related, though there must be some similarity that is either literal or figurative. Occasionally, the term is shortened to pulling teeth and is used as a metaphor rather than a simile. The expression like pulling teeth to describe a difficult task has been in use at least since the 1830s, and may be older. Before modern dentistry, pulling teeth in a literal sense was a long, painful process that involved perseverance and physical strength on the part of the tooth puller, as well as the patient.


“I thought we played a little better basketball in the second half, but the first half was like pulling teeth at times.” (The Sandusky Register)

“To ask their CEO or someone senior to spare a couple of days or even a couple of hours for the common good is almost like pulling teeth.” (The Duke Chronicle)

For many years, convincing tribal citizens to fulfill their civic duties by participating in state politics was like pulling teeth. (The Lakota Country Times)

Heck, it was like pulling teeth even to get coach Fred Hoiberg to acknowledge what Parker had said less than 24 hours earlier. (The Chicago Sun-Times)

Progress is, however, like pulling teeth and with some evidence of a latent desire to keep rotting teeth in place. (The Irish Times)


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