Needle In a Haystack


Looking for a needle in a haystack is a common phrase that means something is difficult to find.

Example: I lost the remote control to the TV somewhere in the living room and I can’t find it anywhere. It’s like looking for a needle in a haystack. (In other words, he’s having trouble finding the remote.)

Note: It is common for this phrase to be used as a simile, so the word “like” often precedes it. You can see this in the example above.

1. A wild goose chase
2. Hard to find

A boy looking for a needle in a haystack.
Do you think he’ll find it?

The Origin Of ‘Needle In a Haystack’

How hard is it to find a needle in a haystack? Well, you’ve probably lost something small before, like your car keys or maybe even your phone. After searching every nook and cranny, you finally find them. Whew! However, looking for a needle in a haystack, as the saying goes, is far more challenging. How so?

A television show called MythBusters put this old saying to the test to see just how difficult it would be. What happened? They showed that finding a tiny needle in a big haystack is no easy task. This is especially the true if the person searching through the hay is only using their hands. So what they did to make this challenge more doable is this:
They had two teams make a contraption that would help with locating the needle. The result was that even with the aid of their contraptions, it still took hours to find. So in conclusion, if you ever lose a needle in a big pile of straw… just go get another one.

Anyways, the origin of the phrase needle in a haystack is at least over 480 years old. For example, it’s said that Thomas More used a variant form of it in a work of his from 1532:

“To go looking for a needle in a meadow.”

As for the saying with its exact wording it has today, the earliest I could find it in print is from a book titled The Complete Works of Washington Irving, published in 1834:

“If I want to find any particular article, it is, in the language of an humble but expressive saying, — ‘looking for a needle in a haystack.’ “

Tip: Did you like reading about this saying? If so, we actually have a list of popular phrases you can look through. You can learn the meaning of hundreds of them!

Example Sentences

  • Dennis was searching for an ideal apartment. He wanted a place that was both cheap and in a convenient location, but finding one with these requirements was like looking for a needle in a haystack.

Similar Example:

  • My keys are so hard to find sometimes; I should just put them by the front door so I don’t lose them anymore.