According to Longman Dictionary, painfully means :

1- very – used to emphasize a bad or harmful quality that someone or something has
2- needing a lot of effort

This is the text:

"...and his college basketball days are far enough behind him that his chest muscles have turned into saggy manboobs that were painfully obvious through his freebie dot-com polo shirts." - Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

Is it "very obvious to find out" or "it needs a lot effort to find it out"?

  • 4
    "If a problem is painfully clear/obvious, etc, it is embarrassing because it is so clear/obvious, etc" - Cambridge dictionary – Lawrence Feb 18 '17 at 15:03
  • It's a transferred modifier, as with a proud day. The people present on the day are proud, and the observers are observing with grimaces. – Edwin Ashworth Feb 18 '17 at 16:13
  • @Lawrence: Please consider posting that as an answer. – Drew Feb 18 '17 at 18:22
  • It should be blindingly obvious that understanding my point here doesn't involve damaging your eyesight. – FumbleFingers Feb 18 '17 at 18:22
  • @Drew Thanks - done. :) – Lawrence Feb 18 '17 at 22:30

The term painfully here takes on the meaning of very as you have it in your definition 1, except that the 'harm' is usually one of embarrassment.

If a problem is painfully clear/obvious, etc, it is embarrassing because it is so clear/obvious, etc: It was painfully obvious that she didn't like him. - Cambridge Dictionary

In that context "painfully" means the same as "painful" in "painful to see" although "obvious" implies it is difficult to avoid seeing.

  • I would appreciate knowing what the reason for the down-vote is. – user34660 Sep 18 at 17:25

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