be like a red rag to a bull

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be like a red rag to a bull

To be a willfully infuriating or aggravating provocation; to be something that incites great anger or annoyance. An allusion to matadors' practice of waving red rags at a bull during a bullfight, though in fact the color of the rag makes no difference to the animal. John's gone to gloat about his success over his brother, which is like a red rag to a bull if you ask me. You do realize that bringing your new girlfriend to your ex-wife's house is like a red rag to a bull, right?
See also: bull, like, rag, red, to
Farlex Dictionary of Idioms. © 2015 Farlex, Inc, all rights reserved.

red flag/rag to a bull, like a

Inflammatory, infuriating. This simile is based on the ancient belief that bulls react more strongly to a piece of red cloth waved before them than to anything else. In bullfighting the matador’s cape, which he manipulates so as to maneuver the bull’s movements, is usually lined in red. However, it has been fairly well established that it is the cape’s movements that incite the bull; the red color simply makes it more visible to the spectators. Nevertheless, as early as the sixteenth century the belief that red incites bulls was recorded by John Lyly (Euphues and his England, 1580), who wrote, “He that commeth before an Elephant will not wear bright colours, nor he that commeth to a Bul red.”
See also: flag, like, rag, red, to
The Dictionary of Clichés by Christine Ammer Copyright © 2013 by Christine Ammer
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