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I'm quite familiar with the idiomatic phrase of getting on one's nerves, but less so with getting on one's last nerve, though I had a friend who used a variation: getting on one's third nerve. Is one version preferred over the other in different locations? Is third nerve used anywhere?

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Before we start seeing NGrams and Google hit counts, let me point out in advance that there is a malady known as third nerve palsy, which will nullify any of those search strategies. – Robusto Jun 17 '11 at 1:41
@Robusto I didn't know that, but it could be why my friend used the term if she was familiar with the malady. – Spare Oom Jun 17 '11 at 2:00
@Robusto - I had never heard of that malady (or, rather, I've certainly seen it but never knew its name.) I'd also never heard the phrase "you're getting on my third nerve," but I believe I might start using it - the image of going literally cross-eyed with frustration is irresistible. (My apologies to any actual sufferers of the malady, as no offense is intended.) – MT_Head Jun 17 '11 at 3:50
@Robusto, actually you are not right - ngrams.googlelabs.com/… , but only because third nerve yields no hits (in this form) ;) – Unreason Jun 17 '11 at 9:50
@MT_Head, I believe my friend made up getting on my third nerve. I'm sure she wouldn't mind you putting the phrase into circulation. :) – Spare Oom Jun 18 '11 at 19:23
up vote 3 down vote accepted

It is a small difference in meaning, as "last nerve" is a bit stronger than just "nerves".

Getting on one's nerves

Indicates that the person is strongly annoyed by someone/something.

Getting on one's last nerve

Indicates that the person has been so annoyed (maybe over a period of time) that he is on the edge to snap.

Getting on one's third nerve

This is one I have not heard before, but I think this is well answered in the comments already posted to the question (initiated by @Robusto with his reference to third nerve palsy).

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I can't accept a comment as the answer, so linking the comments in your answer works. – Spare Oom Jun 18 '11 at 19:28

The "third track" refers to the live electric track on the subway tracks. As in "don't touch the third track". I think that is another connection to referring to the "third nerve" - it's the one that has an unwelcome consequence.

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