In today's Washington Post article titled “For Boehner, battle is a test of leadership,” I came across the phrase, “It seems every step we take, it’s something just to poke us in the eye,” of Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid. Although I can easily imagine how angry I could be when I’m poked in my eye with a stick, what does “poke one in the eye” mean right here?

I searched the definition of this phrase in dictionaries at hand and online dictionaries, none of which has entry of this phrase, except for Online Slang Dictionary carrying the phrase “poke in the brown eye” without giving any definition of it. I’m also curious to know what “poke in the brown eye” means.

Mr. Harry Reid’s comment including “poke one in the eye” reads:

‘It seems every step we take, it’s something just to poke us in the eye,’ a frustrated Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) said at one point this week. ‘They are not trying to arrive at the finish line. It appears that they’re going to do everything they can to satisfy the tea party.’

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    The second is slang for sodomy. Apr 10, 2011 at 2:21
  • @Callithumpian. Now I understood why Online Slang Dictionary carries the second phrase without giving any explanation of the meaning. Apr 10, 2011 at 6:13
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    There is an expression, "better than a poke in the eye" sometimes added "with a sharp stick". An expression of understatement to mean one thing is quite a bit better than something rather unpleasant. Poke in the eye in this case is being used in a similar manner to denote something unpleasant, and at least temporarily debilitating.
    – Sam
    Apr 10, 2011 at 6:14
  • @Sam.I found Urban Dictionary gives the definition of “Better than a poke in the eye with a blunt stick” as (1) a situation that isn't very good, but could be worse, (2) the third choice in a series of options in which the first two have been rejected. Dictionary catch phrase gives "better than a kick in the ass with a frozen boot" (Canadian) "better than a slap across the belly with a wet fish" (US) as the synonyms. So I understand Harry Reid’s comment is not totally negative, but rather acceptive of the outcome of the deal. Did he simply drop ‘with a stick’? Or is the phrase used as it own? Apr 10, 2011 at 9:09
  • He didn't say the deal was better than a poke in the eye, but that they felt they HAD been poked in the eye (metaphorically).
    – Dusty
    Apr 10, 2011 at 22:11

3 Answers 3


It's being used as a metaphorical version of the physical action it describes. That is, it's a action that's designed to annoy and/or insult the recipient of the poke.

  • In this case it seems to me that Mr. Reid meant also a bit of what's usually idiomatized as "being nibbled to death by ducks": that is, not only are people (in context, the opposition party) doing things just to annoy him, they are doing them repetitively to the point where a great deal of the aggravation comes from the unceasing repetition rather than the seriousness of any given act.
    – zwol
    Jul 22, 2012 at 21:56

I’m also curious to know what “poke in the brown eye” means.

"Poke in the brown eye" is slang for anal sex. "Poke" is slang for sexual penetration, and "brown eye" is slang for anus.


Poke your eye is means taking advantage of someone financially.

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    We're looking for long answers that provide some explanation and context. Please explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations. Answers that don't include explanations may be removed.
    – NVZ
    Feb 17, 2017 at 12:54

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