8. something that is hard to do, understand, or surmount; impediment; obstacle.
[1350–1400; Middle English difficulte (< Anglo-French) < Latin difficultās =difficil(is) difficult + -tās -ty 2 ]
- As easy as buying a pair of solid leather shoes for ten dollars —Anon
- As easy as combing your hair with a broom —Anon
- As easy as doing one thing at a time and never putting off anything till tomorrow that could be done today —Baron Samuel von Puffendorf
- As easy as drawing a picture in water —Anon
- As easy as eating soup with a fork —Anon
- As easy as finding a two-bedroom apartment on Manhattan’s east side for $400 a month —Anon
This is the sort of topical and location-specific comparison that is adapted to the user’s own locale and economic conditions.
A simile probably inspired by the proverb “One can’t expect to make an omelet without breaking eggs.”
Another proverb that has become familiar is attributed to J. P. Morgan on the dissolution of the trusts in 1905: “You can’t unscramble eggs.”
The porcupine simile made by an anonymous White House reporter in 1986 referred to deputy chief Richard G. Darmon.
The actor’s simile referred to the paper’s efforts to prove that he is only 5 foot 8 inches tall.
As true and timely a simile today as when it originated in the early part of the twentieth century.
This can be traced to the German proverb “You cannot make a silk purse of a sow’s ear.” A less well-known French version substitutes velvet for the sow’s ear.
Another proverb that has evolved into simile form, in this instance from “You cannot be old and young at the same time.”
The comment was a response to Uranus probe, January 22, 1987.
bags into all cars, July 3, 1986
The difficulty in this instance involved getting the air bag out of Ford.
In his novel, Skorpion’s Death, Brierly uses the comparison to describe the difficulty of learning how to fly.
a hair in the butter An American cowboy expression for a delicate or ticklish situation. The difficulty of picking a single hair out of butter makes this analogy appropriate.
a hard nut to crack A poser, a puzzler, a stumper; a hard question, problem, or undertaking; a difficult person to deal with, a tough cookie; also a tough nut to crack .
You will find Robert Morris a hard nut to crack. (James Payn, The Mystery of Mirbridge. 1888)
hard row to hoe A difficult or uphill task, a long haul, a hard lot, a tough situation; also a long row to hoe. This American expression is an obvious reference to the dispiriting task of hoeing long rows in rocky terrain.
I never opposed Andrew Jackson for the sake of popularity. I knew it was a hard row to hoe, but I stood up to the rack. (David Crockett, An Account of Col Crockett’s Tour to the North and down East. 1835)
have one’s work cut out To be facing a difficult task; about to undertake a demanding responsibility of the sort that will test one’s abilities and resources to the utmost; to have one’s hands full. This common expression is a variation of the earlier cut out work for. meaning simply to prepare work for another, may have a sense that its origins in tailoring; it apparently carried no implications of excessiveness in quantity or difficulty. Perhaps it is the nature of superiors to be exceedingly demanding, or at least for underlings to assume so; in any event, when the expression “changed hands,” so to speak, it took on these added connotations, along with the frequent implication that the person who “has his work cut out for him” has more than he can capably manage.
hold an eel by the tail To try to grasp something slippery and elusive; to try to control an unmanageable situation; to encounter or deal with a deceitful, unreliable person. In use since the early 16th century, this expression exemplifies what any angler knows: holding an eel by the tail is a near impossibility; the squirmy, twisting, slippery creature will wrench itself from the grasp of anyone who attempts the feat.
He may possibly take an eel by the tail in marrying a wife. (Thomas Newte, A Tour in England and Scotland in 1785. 1791)
hot potato A controversial question; an embarrassing situation. This familiar saying is of obvious origin.
The Judge had been distressed when Johnny agreed to take the case, was amazed at first at the way he handled it—hot potato that it was. (Carson McCullers, Clock Without Hands. 1961)
The term is often used in the expression drop like a hot potato. meaning to swiftly rid one-self of any unwanted thing or person.
They dropped him like a hot potato when they learned that he had accepted a place on the Republican Committee of the State. (B. P. Moore, Perley’s Reminiscences. 1886)
sticky wicket A difficult predicament; a perilous plight; an awkward situation requiring delicate, cool-headed treatment. This expression, primarily a British colloquialism, alludes to the sport of cricket and describes the tacky condition of the playing field near the wicket ‘goal’ after a rainstorm. Because of the sponginess and sluggishness of the ground, the ball does not roll and bounce as predictably as on a dry field, and the player must therefore adapt to the situation by being exceptionally accurate and careful. The phrase is often used in expressions such as bat on a sticky wicket, be on a sticky wicket .