‘Add Insult To Injury’: Definition, Meaning and Examples

By Sophia Merton, updated on April 24, 2023

Did someone use the phrase 'add insult to injury,' and you’re wondering what it means? In this article, we’ll take a look at the meaning, origin, examples, and more.

The idiom ‘add insult to injury’ means:

  • To make a situation that is already bad even worse.

What Does 'Add Insult to Injury' Mean?

‘Add insult to injury’ is an idiom that means:

  • To make an already bad situation worse
  • To make a loss worse with indignity or mockery

Basically, let’s say that your boss has been making you and your co-workers come into the office on Saturdays for the last few weeks. On top of that, though, they’ve decided not to offer you the pay raise you’ve been asking for. In this situation, you could say that their choice to not increase your pay ‘added insult to injury,’ as having to work on Saturdays was bad enough on its own.

Where Does 'Add Insult to Injury' Come From?

While some idioms have only been around for a few decades or even a few hundred years, ‘add insult to injury’ actually dates all the way back to the first century A.D.

  • This phrase is derived from the fables of Phaedrus, a Roman fabulist that is known to have been the first versifier of a collection of Aesop’s fables into Latin.

In one story, Phaedrus recounts a fable where a fly lands on a bald man’s head. The man swats at the fly but ends up just hitting himself in the head.

The fly speaks in response, saying:

"You wished to kill me for a touch. What will you do to yourself since you have added insult to injury?"

Historical Usage of ‘Add Insult to Injury’ in Print

Using the Google Books Ngram Viewer, we see that 'add insult to injury,’ we see that this idiom was already in use by 1800. It enjoyed a fairly steady usage pattern until around the middle of the 20th century when it became more common in publications.

One example of this phrase used in the early 1800s comes from a publication entitled “Speech of the Right Honourable E.G. Stanly, M.P” from 1833:

“And during the entire of the night, the county presented a constant illumination for joy, that a parson was shot: they did not attempt to conceal their joy; they openly confessed it: and during the night, to add insult to injury, they kept up a succession of runaway knocks at the door.”

Another example is seen in the 1838 publication Mirror of Parliament:

“Then, what took place at St. Sebastian? After the Spanish Government had defrauded the men and officers of the Legion of their just dues, and after treating them in the manner described by Colonel O’Connell, they add insult to injury, by the Spanish Secretary of War issuing an order to compel the officers and men waiting to be paid to embark at St. Sebastian, if they did not consent to embark voluntarily.”

An even earlier example can be found in the publication General Introduction to Statistical Account of Upper Canada Compiled With a View to a Grand System of Emigration from 1822:

“But mark how this odious statute proceeds to add insult to injury. After its victim has suffered condemnation under it, he may be “permitted,” if thought expedient by the tyrant executor, to remain in the province, good and sufficient security being required to the satisfaction of the said tyrant for the good behaviour of the condemned: but after this security is given, should the envy, the jealousy, or the caprice of the tyrant revive, all security to the condemned goes for nothing.”

Finally, here is one more example from all the way back in 1807 found in The Weekly Inspector:

“He told them if they could be so lost to reflection and to consequences, as to turn a plaintiff out of court with trifling damages, in a cause of this sort, and thus add insult to injury, they would soon find that plaintiffs would not continue to come there for redress– The laws of honour, as they were called, would be appealed to, and that justice demanded in the field of death, which had been sought for in vain, of courts and juries.

Examples of 'Add Insult to Injury' In Sentences

How would 'add insult to injury' be used in a sentence?

Let’s take a look at some examples:

  • “To add insult to injury, the famous actress wasn’t just ridiculed in the press, but she also couldn't find any peace from the relentless paparazzi.”
  • “I was completely heartbroken when I realized that John had bought a piece of jewelry for another woman, but it only added insult to injury when I saw that he had purchased it on my birthday!”
  • “It was bad enough that we lost the game– it only added insult to injury that I hurt my ankle, too.”
  • “We had been so excited about taking a vacation during the holiday, so you can imagine how disappointed we were when we missed our flights and were too late to board the cruise. To add insult to injury, I came down with a terrible stomach flu while on the plane.”
  • Of course, it’s not just enough for us to be stuck in traffic when I’m on my way to an important meeting. To add insult to injury, the AC in my car has to be broken on the hottest day of the summer.”
  • “Not only did I not catch any fish on our fishing trip, but to add insult to injury, I got the worst case of poison ivy I’ve ever had in my life.”

Other Ways to Say ‘Add Insult to Injury’

What are some other words and phrases that have a similar meaning to 'add insult to injury'?

Here are some options:

  • Make matters worse
  • Rub salt in the wound
  • Add fuel to the fire
  • Worsen
  • Twist the knife
  • Exacerbate

Final Thoughts About 'Add Insult to Injury'

‘Add insult to injury’ is an idiom that is several thousand years old.

  • If someone or something ‘adds insult to injury,’ it means that they are making a bad situation even worse.
  • Sometimes, it can be used to describe someone saying something hurtful or doing something upsetting when there is already a bad situation occurring.

Are you ready to learn more English phrases and expand your vocabulary? Be sure to check out our idioms blog for idioms, expressions, sayings, and more!

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Written By:
Sophia Merton
Sophia Merton is one of the lead freelance writers for WritingTips.org. Sophia received her BA from Vassar College. She is passionate about reading, writing, and the written word. Her goal is to help everyone, whether native English speaker or not, learn how to write and speak with perfect English.

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