bitter pill (to swallow)

bitter pill (to swallow)

Something that is painful or hard to accept, as in “Being fired from one’s first job is a bitter pill to swallow.” The term bitter pill has been used figuratively for an unpleasant situation or fact since the sixteenth century. Horace Walpole had the precise locution: “It was a bitter pill for the King to swallow” (Last Journals, 1779). On the other hand, the more philosophical view that bad-tasting medicine may be beneficial has existed alongside the cliché. “Bitter pills may have blessed effects” was recorded in James Kelly’s Scottish Proverbs (1721), and Thomas Fuller put it as “wholesome effects” in Gnomologia (1732).
See also: bitter, pill