Hard Pill To Swallow

Meaning:

Something that is hard to accept.

Example: We had three cats. Sadly, the oldest one passed away not too long ago. He was my favorite out of them all, so his death was a hard pill to swallow at first. But I’ve come to accept it, and I know that he lived a long, comfortable life. For a cat, that is.

Synonyms / Related Sayings:
Hard to swallow
Spilled bottle of hard medicine pills for swallowing.
Hard pills like these are usually swallowed with water. This isn’t too difficult, but the bigger they are, the harder it is to do.

The Origin Of ‘Hard Pill To Swallow’

From the looks of it, this phrase first started out simply as “a pill to swallow.” Then later, the adjectives “hard” and “bitter” were added to it. Why do I say this? Because the oldest version of the expression that I could find is one without any adjectives on it. For example, in the 17th century, an English poet named John Dryden published a work of his called called Essay of Dramatic Peosy. This was done in 1668, and he wrote down the expression like so:

“We cannot read a verse of Cleveland’s without making a face at it, as if every word were a Pill to swallow: he gives us many times a hard Nut to break our Teeth, without a Kernal for our pains.”

Later, the word ‘bitter’ was added to the phrase. The earliest example I could find of this version is from a French historian named Mr. Rapin Thoyras. In one of his written works from 1736, it reads:

“This event, which happened the 7th of September, N.S. was immediately follow’d by the relieving of time after, with the total explulsion of the French out of all Italy; a bitter pill to swallow.”

And then finally, the earliest I could find of the idiom with “hard” in it is from a Morning Journal newspaper, 1829:

“That they will prove a hard pill for Turkey to swallow is to be expected, unless, indeed, some decided friend has recently sprung up, who will not allow Turkey to be so crippled as to make her fall an easy prey next time she is attacked.”


Example Sentences

  1. Jason looked in the mirror and came to the realization that he was losing his hair. Yep, he was balding, and this was a hard pill for him to swallow.

Note: The meanings for common idioms and phrases can be found with ease. On the other hand, finding a phrase’s origins can be much more difficult. For many popular sayings, the origins is simply not known. So when that happens, an explanation might be listed on the page that tries to explain how a saying may have come about. If there’s no explanation, then what will be included on the page is the oldest known quote of the phrase. Most of the time, anyways.

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