Fly in the Ointment

I found a TV channel that runs “retro” shows. Last night I watched episodes of Doctor Who with Jon Pertwee. How different the pacing was for story told in half-hour installments than in today’s Doctor Who format. The Doctor spoke a phrase I don’t hear much on TV: a fly in the ointment.

Wikipedia defines the phrase as “an idiomatic expression for a drawback, especially one that was not at first apparent.” They don’t cite any TV shows, but do mention the phrase was used in the movie Die Hard. The article says the likely source is this King James Bible citation.

Dead flies cause the ointment of the apothecary to send forth a stinking savour. (Ecclesiastes 10:1)

Phrase Finder notes that the precise contemporary wording was first found in print in John Norris’ A Practical Treatise Concerning Humility, 1707: ‘Tis that dead fly in the ointment of the Apothecary.

This is the first time I’ve been able to combine Doctor Who and the Bible in a single post. Hurray.

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About Ponderer

Ponderer also writes science fiction and science-inspired rhyming poetry. Check her out at She worked at Rocky Flats for 22 years - you may know her as Kathy London.

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