Alternative forms Edit
( bitter pill to swallow plural ) bitter pills to swallow
Used other than as an idiom: see , bitter pill . swallow
( idiomatic ) Something unpleasant that must be accepted or endured.
1886, George Gissing, Demos: A Story of English Socialism, ch. 10:
[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 notes Edit
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.