A Sight for Sore Eyes - Meaning, Origin and Usage

Are you waiting for your friend to walk through the door with your takeout food? When they arrive, you could tell them they are "a sight for sore eyes" if you're feeling really hungry.

This post unpacks the meaning and origin of this idiom, and we'll look at its use in conversation.

A Sight for Sore Eyes Idiom Meaning

"A sight for sore eyes" means that you are happy to see someone or something. You could use the term when you return home to your partner after a hard day at the office, or you could say it to someone you haven't seen in years.

The gist of the phrase is that you're experiencing a positive reaction to seeing the other person or object. You could use the term to describe inanimate objects like a cold soda on a hot day. The American and British versions differ in meaning, with the British version displaying displeasure at seeing the other person or object.

A Sight for Sore Eyes Example Usage

"Oh my gosh, Marilyn, it's been years since you left; you are a sight for sore eyes for sure."

"We've been struggling with this problem for hours, and you arrive and solve it in minutes; you're a sight for sore eyes."

"I've been dreaming about this cheeseburger all day. It's a sight for sore eyes."

"I've been looking for a receptionist for weeks; you're a sight for sore eyes. Can you start next week?"

"That sexy girl is a sight for sore eyes. We've been here for hours, and she's the first decent prospect we've seen all night."

"That bottle of water at the end of this hike is going to be a sight for sore eyes."

A Sight for Sore Eyes Idiom Origin

The origin of "a sight for sore eyes" traces back to the 1700s. However, the original phrase had a negative connotation, referring to the object or person in view, making the viewer uncomfortable. The term has since evolved into the opposite meaning. Nowadays, it refers to the sight of an object or someone bringing relief to the viewer.

The phrase's first use occurs in Johnathan Swift's work, "A Complete Collection of Genteel and Ingenious Conversation, widely known only as Polite Conversation," published back in 1738. The text reads the following.

"The sight of you is good for sore eyes."

The new version used by William Hazlitt in the "New Monthly Magazine" from 1826 reads the following.

"Garrick's name as proposed on condition he should act in tragedy and comedy… What a sight for sore eyes that would be!"

Therefore, some people might confuse it with an eyesore or something unattractive to view.

Phrases Similar to A Sight for Sore Eyes

  • I missed you.
  • What a relief.
  • I can't believe it's you.

Phrases Opposite to A Sight for Sore Eyes

  • I didn't miss it/you.
  • I barely noticed it/you were gone.
  • I don't want to see you again.

What is the Correct Saying?

  • A sight for sore eyes.

Ways People May Say A Sight for Sore Eyes Incorrectly

The phrase doesn't refer to someone's eyes actually being sore. The soreness refers to the person's feelings or emotions, but not to their physical well—being. You would also not use the phrase in a low-impact situation; it would refer to experiencing tremendous relief.

Acceptable Ways to Phrase A Sight for Sore Eyes

You can use "a sight for sore eyes" in social and professional situations. It is suitable to use the phrase to describe people, places, actions, or objects. You would use the term to express a feeling of want, relief, or gratuity.

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