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bitter pill to swallow



Alternative formsEdit


bitter pill to swallow (plural bitter pills to swallow)

  1. Used other than with a figurative or idiomatic meaning: see bitter pill,‎ swallow.
  2. (idiomatic) Something unpleasant that must be accepted or endured.
    • 1886, George Gissing, chapter 10, in Demos: A Story of English Socialism:
      [T]o see himself dethroned, the object of her contempt, was a bitter pill to swallow.
    • 1920, "Amundsen to Try Again for Pole," New York Times, 1 May, p. 14:
      "[W]e cast loose from the ice after a very careful inspection which left us no hope whatsoever of penetrating it. . . . It was a bitter pill to swallow, but we decided to search for Winter quarters somewhere along the coast."
    • 2006, Tony Karon, "Inside Iraq's 'Amnesty' Plan," Time, 26 Jun.:
      Giving them amnesty would be a bitter pill for the U.S. to swallow.

Usage notesEdit

  • Bitter pill(s) to swallow is not a set phrase. Only a little more than 40% of the usage at COCA with a form of swallow within 9 words before or after is of the form given.
  • Other verbs such as take, down, and digest may replace swallow.
  • About one third of the time bitter pill appears without any such verb nearby.
  • Other adjectives modify pill about 60% of the time: hard, tough, bad, difficult, even easy.

Related termsEdit

See alsoEdit