Is it "better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick", or "better than a poke in the eye with a blunt stick"?

I suspect that some sort of metaphor testing facility in the Discworld concluded that virtually anything was better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick, but apart from that I'm not 100% certain.

Side question: is there a term for when a metaphor or cliche gets mutated?

  • 1
    Note that the original poke in the eye with a burnt stick was given by Ulysses to the cyclops Polyphemus, blinding him, well before this expression arose in modern English. – Peter Shor Oct 20 '14 at 18:35
  • i did not know what any of this means but better than a poke in the eye with a burnt stick might mean and i quote "better than nothing''. – sally wincester Feb 9 '17 at 17:00

The Shorter dictionary of catch phrases (Rosalind Fergusson, 1994) has the blunt version.

book screenshot

A dictionary of slang and unconventional English: colloquialisms and catch phrases, fossilised jokes and puns, general nicknames, vulgarisms and such Americanisms as have been naturalised (E. Partridge and P. Beale, 2002) has both:

book shot


The only way I've ever heard the expression is better than a sharp stick in the eye. Mileage will doubtless vary.

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    Only way I've heard this is "better than getting poked in the eye with a sharp stick." The blunt-stick version cited by Partridge above makes more logical sense, but I've never encountered it. – The Raven May 3 '11 at 10:45

I'm sure both blunt and burnt are only recent changes to the original saying that I grew up with back fifties when the saying then was "Burnt" stick. I had never heard blunt or burnt growing up from anyone back then.

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    ??? If you never heard blunt or burnt growing up, why was the saying then "Burnt" stick? – Hot Licks Jul 6 '16 at 2:41

protected by tchrist Feb 10 '17 at 1:42

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