fly in the ointment

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fly in the ointment

Post by Archived Topic » Tue Nov 16, 2004 2:27 pm

In the posting "fly in the ointment vs. rain on one's parade" the question of the distinction between the two was raised. I’ve posted this separately for the purpose of retrievability and for discussion of the phrase’s origin.
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FLY IN THE OINTMENT [1833, but has been used in one form or another since before the time of Christ]: A small defect, triviality, irritation, drawback, or other factor which ruins or spoils the success or enjoyment of an otherwise enjoyable occasion or something of value; a negative element, a drawback or detrimental factor or consideration. “The new library is wonderful but there’s a fly in the ointment: their catalog isn’t complete yet.” The unknown author of the Biblical book of Ecclesiastes wrote in the 3rd century B.C. (10:1): “Dead flies cause the ointment of the apothecary to send forth a stinking savour.”
<1914 “The present situation is not without its ‘FLY IN THE OINTMENT’ for those motorists who have patriotically lent the assistance of their cars to the military authorities.”—‘The Scotsman,’ 10 September, page 9/1>

<1928 “The insurance of school fees has now become so general that it is as well to point out to parents that there is a rather large FLY IN THE OINTMENT.”—‘Daly Express,’ 11 May, page 10/7>

<1936 “There is only one FLY IN THE OINTMENT offered by commercial propagandists; they want your money.”—‘The Olive Tree’ by Aldous Huxley, page 5>
(Picturesque Expressions by Urdang, American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms, Oxford Dictionary of Slang, Oxford English Dictionary)
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Ken G – July 8, 2004
Submitted by Ken Greenwald (Fort Collins, CO - U.S.A.)
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