Thorn in one’s side and thorn in one’s flesh

Thorn in one’s side and thorn in one’s flesh are two versions of an idiom with very definite origins. An idiom is a commonly used word, group of words, or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Often using descriptive imagery or metaphors, 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. Figures of speech like an often-used metaphor have definitions and connotations that go beyond the literal meaning of the words. Mastery of the turn of phrase of an idiom, which may use slang words or other parts of speech, is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions and idiomatic language such as hit the sack, spill the beans, let the cat out of the bag, silver lining, back to the drawing board, barking up the wrong tree, kick the bucket, hit the nail on the head, face the music, under the weather, piece of cake, when pigs fly, and raining cats and dogs, because they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. English phrases that are idioms should not be taken literally. 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 helpful to maintain a list of phrases, common expressions, colloquial terms, and popular expressions to memorize that are used figuratively or idiomatically. We will examine the meaning of the idioms thorn in one’s side and thorn in one’s flesh, where they came from, and some examples of their idiomatic usage in sentences.

The idioms a thorn in one’s side and a thorn in one’s flesh refer to someone or something that is a continual annoyance or someone or something that constantly causes one trouble. For instance, a neighbor who lets his dog defecate on your lawn every morning might be a thorn in your side or a thorn in your flesh. The expressions thorn in one’s side and thorn in one’s flesh are derived from two passages in the Bible. In the Old Testament, Numbers 33:55 states: “But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land, those you allow to remain will become barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides.” In the New Testament, 2 Corinthians 12:7 states: “Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.”


U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham touted an endorsement Thursday from Constitution Party nominee Bill Bledsoe, hoping to rid himself of a thorn in his side that risked peeling away a small but potentially pivotal number of conservative votes in South Carolina’s competitive U.S. Senate race. (The Charleston Post and Courier)

“Not having a degree has always been a thorn in her side,” Kapiloff continued. (The Philadelphia Inquirer)

However, some unscrupulous people within the local authority have been a thorn in her flesh as they want to help themselves with the same piece of land. (The Zambia Daily Mail)

I had done what the world had signaled I must: hidden the thorn in my flesh, held “the demon” at bay, kept the covenant, borne the weight of my crooked cross. (The New York Times)

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