bitter pill to swallow (plural bitter pills to swallow)
- Used other than with a figurative or idiomatic meaning: see bitter pill, swallow.
- (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.
- 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.