It’s better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick. 
Posted: 19 April 2011 10:57 AM   [ Ignore ]
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A friend of mine the other day wanted to know where the phrase “it’s better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick” came from. My understanding of the phrase comes from Homer’s Odyssey. When Odysseus and his fellow travelers were trapped in a cave with the one eyed Cyclops Polyphemus they waited for the Cyclops to sleep and sharpening a stake drive it into his eye thereby allowing then to escape.  If anyone can shed more light on the matter please let me know.

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Posted: 19 April 2011 12:56 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Given that every day people get poked in the eye with a sharp stick (it’s one of the leading causes of traumatic blindness worldwide) and always have done, I see no reason to suppose anything of the kind, unless you can produce evidence to connect the two.

There is a whole string of equivalent phrases - better than a slap in the face with a wet herring; better than a stab in the shin with a rusty nail; better than a thump on the back with a stone. That last is stated by Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang to be the the oldest of those four, mid-18th century while the others are 19th century

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Posted: 19 April 2011 03:36 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Or “better than Botox”, an actual advertising slogan, but translatable as “better than an injection of a deadly poison.”

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Posted: 19 April 2011 05:40 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Hmmm,
You could be correct but considering the Etymology of the phrase mine goes back to even before the time of Jesus. Therefore I would have to guess that all those other phases are nothing more than take offs of the original thought. Slogans aside.

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Posted: 19 April 2011 06:20 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Your supposed origin story goes back to Homeric Greece, but do you have any evidence that the phrase has actually been used that long?  The phrase does NOT occur in any translation of the Odyssey that I am aware of, and I find no examples of its use before the last third of the 19th century (at which time “burnt” seems to have been about as common as “sharp").

[ Edited: 19 April 2011 06:24 PM by Dr. Techie ]
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Posted: 19 April 2011 06:21 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Could “better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick” even yield a precise etymology?  I suspect it to be a common idiom in every language used by stick wielding individuals.  I might even go so far as to suggest that apes may have a semiotic gesture bearing proximate meaning of at least the “poke in the eye with a [...] stick” part of the phrase.

[ Edited: 19 April 2011 06:34 PM by sobiest ]
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Posted: 20 April 2011 04:59 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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You could be correct but considering the Etymology of the phrase mine goes back to even before the time of Jesus. Therefore I would have to guess that all those other phases are nothing more than take offs of the original thought.

The phrase is English.  They did not speak English “before the time of Jesus.” Furthermore, I will be very surprised if the phrase goes back further than the nineteenth century (I have found a usage from 1887).  You need to accept that your idea is simply wrong, as are most ideas about etymology.

I suspect it to be a common idiom in every language used by stick wielding individuals.

No, I think it’s just English.

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Posted: 20 April 2011 06:01 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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languagehat - 20 April 2011 04:59 AM


I suspect it to be a common idiom in every language used by stick wielding individuals.

No, I think it’s just English.

Quite so, languagehat. 

[Edit: I suspect there to be an equivalent idiomatic expression in every language used by stick wielding individuals.]

And now that I think about it, there must be a precise etymology for “better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.”

The question is, is it locatable?

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Posted: 20 April 2011 06:02 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Point taken! I guess I am wrong so thanks for clearing this point up ( no pun intended ).

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