Stick out like a sore thumb

Stick out like a sore thumb is an idiom that has been in use for several hundred years. An idiom is a word, group of words or phrase, or phrasal verbs that have a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. These figures of speech often use descriptive imagery, common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often colloquialisms or descriptors that are spoken or are considered informal or conversational. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase or expression 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. Figures of speech have definitions and connotations that go beyond the literal meaning of the words. Mastery of the turn of phrase of an idiom or other parts of speech is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions that native speakers understand such as in a blue moon, spill the beans, let the cat out of the bag, chin up, eye to eye, barking up the wrong tree, bite the bullet, beat a dead horse, hit the nail on the head, kicked the bucket, blow off steam, jump on the bandwagon, piece of cake, hit the sack, 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 phrasing of the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker. It is possible to memorize a list of idioms, but it may be easier to pay attention to the use of idioms in everyday speech, where peculiar imagery will tell you that the expressions should not be taken literally. 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.


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)

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