Sight for Sore Eyes – Meaning, Origin and Usage

Are you looking for a phrase to tell someone that you appreciate seeing them? You could say to them they are a “sight for sore eyes” when they arrive. This post unpacks the meaning and origin of this expression.


The expression “a sight for sore eyes” means that you’re happy to see someone and appreciate them for being part of your life. It can suit several situations and varying degrees of intensity in its use.

You can use it to welcome home a loved one after a long trip. Or you could use it to say that someone you met for the first time is who you’re searching for in your life.

Ironically, the British version of the expression holds the original meaning and use of the idiom. It means that what you are staring at is making your eyes sore.

Example Usage

“Wow, honey, are you a sight for sore eyes. It’s only been a few days, but I missed you so much.”

“Thanks for coming in early, Jim. Man, are you a sight for sore eyes. I’ve been working doubles all week, and I just want to go home.”

“That steak is a sight for sore eyes. I’ve been traveling through the Sahara for the last three months, and I haven’t had a good piece of meat in ages.”

“That bottle of whiskey is a sight for sore eyes. I haven’t had a drink in months, and I can’t wait for a double on the rocks.”

“Susan, you are a sight for sore eyes. I’ve been searching for someone like you all my life, and I never thought I would see you again.”

“Getting home and seeing the old house again was a sight for sore eyes. I’ve missed you guys so much the last three years while I was away.”


The expression “a sight for sore eyes” originates from the 1700s. Originally, the saying had a negative connotation, meaning that the sight they were viewing gave them sore eyes. Over the centuries, the expression developed the opposite of its original meaning, and what they viewed pleased them.

The first use of the phrase in print comes from Jonathan Swift’s book, “A Complete Collection of Genteel and Ingenious Conversation,” published in 1738. IT appears in the book as follows.

“The sight of you is good for sore eyes.”

The modern version of the saying first appeared in New Monthly Magazine in 1826 in an article written by William Hazlitt. It appears as follows.

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

Phrases Similar to Sight for Sore Eyes

  • I missed you.
  • I’ve been waiting for you.

Phrases Opposite to Sight for Sore Eyes

  • I didn’t miss you.
  • You’re not needed here.

What is the Correct Saying?

  • Sight for sore eyes.

Ways People May Say Sight for Sore Eyes Incorrectly

The phrase doesn’t refer to the speaker having sore eyes. The sore eyes in the expression are a way of saying you miss the person, are tired, or need a break from what you are doing. The other person can be a colleague, partner, or child.

Acceptable Ways to Phrase Sight for Sore Eyes

You can use the saying, “a sight for sore eyes,” when you want to tell someone that you’re pleased to see them. It’s a way of telling them that you’ve been waiting for them to arrive with great anticipation. The phrase suits social and professional use.

You could tell a colleague that they are a sight for sore eyes when they arrive to relieve you from your shift. You could tell your partner they are a sight for sore eyes after they return home from a long trip. This expression has different variations of authenticity. You could use it to say you are deeply appreciative of seeing someone or that you’re mildly glad to see them.

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