Fly in the ointment

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For other uses, see Fly in the Ointment.

In English, the phrase fly in the ointment is an idiomatic expression for a drawback, especially one that was not at first apparent, e.g.

We had a cookstove, beans, and plates; the fly in the ointment was the lack of a can opener.

The likely source is a phrase in the King James Bible:[1]

Dead flies cause the ointment of the apothecary to send forth a stinking savour. (Ecclesiastes 10:1)

For five centuries, 'a fly in the ointment' has meant a small defect that spoils something valuable or is a source of annoyance. The modern version thus suggests that something unpleasant may come or has come to light in a proposition or condition that is almost too pleasing; that there is something wrong hidden, unexpected somewhere.

This idiom has been used in the title of some books: The Fly in the Ointment: 70 Fascinating Commentaries on the Science of Everyday Life by Joseph A. Schwarcz, The Fly In The Ointment by V.S. Pritchett and The Fly in the Ointment by Alice Thomas Ellis.

Sources[edit]

  • The Fly in the Ointment: 70 Fascinating Commentaries on the Science of Everyday Life by Joseph A. Schwarcz, Ecw Press, May 28, 2004.
  • 2107 Curious Word Origins, Sayings & Expressions from White Elephants to a Song and Dance by Charles Earle Funk (Galahad Book, New York, 1993
  • Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins by Robert Hendrickson (Facts on File, New York, 1997).

References[edit]