Stick out like a sore thumb

Stick out like a sore thumb is an idiom that has been in use for several hundred years. We will examine the meaning of the idiomatic phrase stick out like a sore thumb, where it came from, and some examples of its use in sentences.

To stick out like a sore thumb means to be obvious or to be very different from one’s surroundings. For instance, a green car parked in a lot filled with red cars would stick out like a sore thumb. The expression is sometimes rendered as stand out like a sore thumb, but the phrase stick out like a sore thumb is much more popular. The expression to stick out, meaning to be different than one’s surroundings, first arose in the sixteenth century. The idiom stick out like a sore thumb came into use in the mid-1800s, and may have evolved from the long-lost expression, to be on hand like a sore thumb. This idiom meant to be available or to be at someone’s disposal. The phrase stick out like a sore thumb was popularized in the 1930s-1940s by the writer, Erle Stanley Gardner, whose Perry Mason novels eventually led to a popular American TV series of the same name. Related phrases are sticks out like a sore thumb, stuck out like a sore thumb, sticking out like a sore thumb.

Examples

Don’t expect the designs to stick out like a sore thumb in downtown, with the planned development looking to capture loft style housing commonly found in the Third Ward in Milwaukee and West Loop in Chicago, Gerbitz said. (The Beloit Daily News)

In normal day-to-day life, a person wearing or holding a traditional action camera would stick out like a sore thumb among the crowd. (Forbes Magazine)

When the police circulated security-camera images of the suspect, who had worn a construction worker’s outfit in carrying out a third assault with a bucket full of excrement, something about him stuck out like a sore thumb: his yellow hard hat. (The National Post)