Add Insult To Injury

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An English idiom with Ancient roots.

Meaning

To add insult to injury is to make a bad situation become worse by saying or doing something. It is to upset someone once, with some remark or action, and then to do something else which compounds the original insult, or to add to the injury of something that occurs by saying or doing something. The idiom does not refer to physical injury but to emotional injury. We can see the meaning as "by your action, you have injured me, and then you have compounded it and hurt my feelings."

Usage

"The teacher gave me and F on the test and then put my name up on a list on the bulletin board. Talk about adding insult to injury!"

"I sprained my ankle when I stepped off the curb, and then, to add insult to injury, my cousin Stevie laughed at me."

Origin

The idiom add insult to injury has quite ancient origins. In fact, it dates all the way back to the time of the Roman writer Phaedrus, who lived around 15 B.C. to A.D. 50. The origin is found in a passage from his translation of Aesop's fables, "The Bald Man and the Fly."

In the story, a bald man is bit on the head by a fly. In trying to swat the fly, he misses and ends up bonking himself on the head very hard. The fly laughs and says, "You wanted to avenge the prick of a tiny little insect with death. What will you do to yourself, who have added insult to injury?"

The man replied that he would feel just fine about himself because he knew that it was not his intention to harm. But, "you shameful animal of a scorned race, who delighted to drink human blood, I would choose to be rid of you even with a greater inconvenience to myself."

The actual Latin phrase for the "added insult to injury" part was "quid facies tibi, iniuriae qui addideris contumeliam?" Not all later writers translated this as "added insult to injury." But, later, in 1747, the English writer Edward Moore wrote his first stage play, the Foundling:

Villiard: My doors were broke open at Midnight by this gentleman; [pointing to Belmont.] my self wounded, and Fidelia ravish'd from me—He ran off with her in his arms—Nor, 'till this morning, in a coach, which brouht her hither, have my eyes ever behold her.

Sir Roger Belmont: A very fine business, truly, young man!

Fidelia: He has abus'd you, sir—Mr. Belmont is noble…

Young Belmont: No matter, Fidelia—Well, sir!—You have been robb'd you say?

Villiard: And will have justice, sir.

Young Belmont: Take it from his hand then. [Drawing]

Sir Charles Raymond: Hold, sir!—This is adding insult to injuries—Fidelia must be restor'd, sir.

Sir Roger Belmont: Ay, sir—Fidelia must be restor'd.

It is impossible to tell where the exact origin of this phrase lies. It may be much older than Phaedrus' use of it. And, since many writers did not even use this exact translation, which only appears in print much later, around the 1800's, it is hard to say that The Bald Man and the Fly is its definite origin.

The story doesn't use the modern sense of the idiom at all since it is the fly who is injured and the man who is 'insulted.' How the modern use came about is unknown. However, but The Foundling shows that it was a known expression with its modern meaning by the 1700's.

Sources
Smith, Michael K. Playing Fast and Loose: Match Wits with the Author and Guess the Origin of Common Idioms. Place of Publication Not Identified: Authorhouse, 2013.

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