"A Pain In The Neck"!
“... and I often wonder where that expression 'a pain in the neck' originated from ...”
- Amitabh Bachchan (Blog DAY 2022)
I too wonder, though I used the expression, perhaps for the first time, in 1996 in one of my 'Letters to the Editor', published in San Francisco Chronical, the largest circulated daily of Northern California. We had just ended our long jetlag after moving to USA to be with our son settled as software engineer in Silicon Valley, the Mecca of computer industry. The first thing our son did was to make his mother feel that he badly needed her here to be of help to him in multiple tasks which only a Mom could do. He brought all his shirts with the request to remove all the tags stitched inside the neckline as he found them very annoying constantly rubbing against his neck. While his Mom immediately started unstitching the tags, I did what I love to do and had been doing back home in India for a long time – wrote my first 'Letter to the Editor' after landing in USA:
“Calling All Clothiers
Could you kindly tell all clothiers not to stitch on that nasty tag inside the neckline, It really is a pain on the neck.
- San Francisco
Chronical - Feb 18, 1996
As for the origin of the expression, even Google was of not great help, except for vague information:
“ 'A pain in the neck' is a more polite version of the original 'pain in the ass' which originated around 1900. It started out as just 'a pain' as “He gives me a pain”, first used about 1300 from Old French 'peine', from Latin – condition one feels when hurt.”
I wonder how much this information works to quench the curiosity about the origin of the phrase, but the search itself was interesting as I came to know fascinating facte about some other popular phrases:
“Caught Red Handed”: a person who is caught red-handed is discovered in the middle of committing a crime or doing something wrong. It is usually related to stealing. This idiom originated in the 14th century when the act of killing another man's animal and selling the meat was a common crime. If a person was caught with the blood of a freshly killed animal on his hands this was considered proof of his guilt.
“Raining Cats and Dogs”: It means it's raining heavily. The phrase originated in 17th century England. Very heavy rain would occasionally wash dead animals through the street. The animals didn't fall from the sky of course, but the sight of dead cats and dogs being washed down the street with the rain caused people to joke it must have been raining cats and dogs.
“Under the weather”: If you are 'under the weather' it means you are sick or unwell. This idiom originated in the British Navy. When a sailor became sick, he was kept under the deck or 'under the weather' so he could get well.
“Money doesn't grow on trees”: The expression means that money does not come easily or without effort; you should be careful how much money you spend because there is only a limited amount. It seems to have come from a Japanese proverb that states, contrary to the above idiom, 'money grows on the tree of persistence'. In other words, if you keep trying and never give up, money will come to you.
We may hit a treasure of stories on the origin of so many phrases if we start digging as there is no dearth of information on the subject on Google and other search engines, but I doubt if it is worth the trouble till we wonder about the origin of another phrase. Then, of course, it will be a pleasure to put in all the effort to extract information on a particular phrase as I did for “A pain in the neck”.