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 cannot find it anywhere! It’s like looking for a needle in a haystack! (In other words, he is 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.
The Origin Of ‘Needle In a Haystack’
How hard is it to find a needle in a haystack? Well, everyone has probably lost something small before like their car keys. After searching every nook and cranny, you finally find them. Whew! However, looking for a needle in a haystack, as the saying goes, is much more of a challenge.
A show called MythBusters put this old saying to the test to see how difficult it would be. What happened? Well, haystacks are big, so finding a tiny needle in one is really hard to do. This is especially the case if the person searching through the hay is only using their hands. So what they did instead was: They had two teams make a contraption that would help locate the needle. The result was that even with the aid of the built 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!
- Dennis was looking for a cheaper apartment that was in a better location than his current one; however, finding one that met those requirements was like looking for a needle in a haystack.
- My keys are so hard to find sometimes; I should just put them by the front door so I don’t lose them anymore.