a bitter pill, or a hard pill, or bitter medicine
- something unpleasant to be endured
- a distressing experience
- something difficult to accept
- a vexation or annoyance that has to be accepted
- something hard to come to terms with
- something hard or tough to digest/take
- Finding out that she was adopted was a hard pill for Hailey to take.
- Getting demoted was such a bitter pill to swallow.
- Losing her partner for Jade was a hard pill to swallow.
- The news that the disease had returned was a bitter pill for Margot to swallow.
- The engineering company didn’t take on Karl after the training program, and it was a hard pill for him to take.
- It must have been a bitter pill to swallow when the bank foreclosed on the mortgage.
- For the second year running, Peter was passed over for promotion. It’s a hard pill to swallow, especially when the new guy got the job.
- The strict measures introduced to curb the spread of Covid-19 have been a bitter pill to swallow for our mental health.
- The news came that there will be no European Championship this year. That was a hard pill to take.
- It is a hard and bitter pill to swallow that my father is selling our ancestral home.
“A bitter pill” phrase is derived originally from the “a pill to swallow” term. Then later, “bitters” and “hard” adjective words have been added to it.
The earliest written record can be found in 1668 when an English poet called John Dryden used the phrase in his work called Essay of Dramatic Poesy:
“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, In the 1700s, Rapin Thoyras, who wrote about the history of France and Italy, added the word bitter to the expression:
“This event, which happened the 7th of September, N.S. was immediately follow’d by the relieving of time after, with the total expulsion of the French out of all Italy; a bitter pill to swallow.”
The Morning Journal newspaper first time used the phrase “hard pill” in 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.”
“A bitter/hard pill” is a metaphor that relates to something unpleasant but has to be endured (for the better). It can also be assumed that it stems from the nasty taste of some medicines that were often forced upon patients in order to get results.
See also: bitter medicine
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The Idioms Dictionary explains common English idioms that are popular worldwide, especially in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, Singapore, and New Zealand.