Hornet’s Nest, a

Also:
Stir up a hornet’s nest
Step in a hornet’s nest

Meaning of Idiom ‘A Hornet’s Nest’

A hornet’s nest is a situation or subject that is fraught with trouble or causes a lot of opposition so that many people are extremely angry over it. 1Ayto, John. Oxford Dictionary of English Idioms. Oxford: Oxford U, 2010.,2Heacock, Paul. Cambridge Dictionary of American Idioms]. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2010.

Meaning of Idiom ‘Stir up a Hornet’s Nest’ or ‘Step in a hornet’s nest’

To stir up a hornet’s nest is to cause a great deal of trouble and anger. 3Ammer, Christine. American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013.


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Examples Of Use

“You should look into those off-the-book payments Mr. Smith made to his lawyer,” said Janice. “That’s a real hornet’s nest. Not sure if I want to get into it,” said Warren.

“I really stirred up a hornet’s nest when I brought up my brother’s adoption. I thought he was old enough to know!”

“The candidate stepped into a hornet’s nest when he likened slaves to hired servants.”

Origin

A hornet is a very large type of wasp with a very painful and dangerous sting. These insects guard their nests very aggressively, so when a human disturbs the nest or ‘stirs it up,’ the insects attack in numbers with viscous stings. This idiom likens humans to angry hornets whose nest has been threatened. Unlike other wasps, some hornets will build nests in underground cavities or other places near the ground, so that it is possible to step into a hornet’s nest and suffer the retribution of the angry wasps. The idiom has been used since the first half of the 1700s. 4Ammer, Christine. American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013.

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Sources   [ + ]

1. Ayto, John. Oxford Dictionary of English Idioms. Oxford: Oxford U, 2010.
2. Heacock, Paul. Cambridge Dictionary of American Idioms]. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2010.
3, 4. Ammer, Christine. American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013.