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:
‘Add insult to injury’ is an idiom that means:
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.
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.
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?"
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.
How would 'add insult to injury' be used in a sentence?
Let’s take a look at some examples:
What are some other words and phrases that have a similar meaning to 'add insult to injury'?
Here are some options:
‘Add insult to injury’ is an idiom that is several thousand years old.
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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