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The meaning and origin of the expression: A sight for sore eyes

A sight for sore eyes

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What's the meaning of the phrase 'A sight for sore eyes'?

A welcome sight; someone or something you are glad to see.

What's the origin of the phrase 'A sight for sore eyes'?

This phrase was first recorded by Jonathan Swift, in A complete collection of genteel and ingenious conversation, 1738:

"The Sight of you is good for sore Eyes."

The meaning and origin of the phrase 'A sight for sore eyes'.The title of the work suggests that it was in use prior to his writing it down. The currently used version of the phrase was first recorded by William Hazlitt, in New Monthly Magazine, 1826:

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

That's all pretty straightforward. The rise of the World Wide Web has given this phrase a new lease of life. 'Sight', 'site' and 'cite' form one of the small number of three-word homophone groups, that is, words that sound the same but are spelled differently. Another three-word example is 'you', 'yew' and 'ewe'.

A quick scan of the Web courtesy of Google (Feb 2016) shows these hits:

"sight for sore eyes" - 549,000
"site for sore eyes" - 133,000
"cite for sore eyes" - 553

Top of the list for the latter two are websites selling optical supplies and literary citations respectively, so they have some excuse. Many of the others are just misspellings.

See also 'four-word homonyms'.

Gary Martin - the author of the website.

By Gary Martin

Gary Martin is a writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.

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