So, my friend said "getting a compliment out of X is like pulling teeth". Somehow I always remembered that expression as "pulling nails with a plier". He pointed that the expression doesn't exists. So I was wondering where I heard that phrase. I am Indian, so is it British English? Or does the phrase not exists at all?

  • But pulling nails with pliers sounds easy, and the point is that pulling teeth is difficult and painful. But then, I am a US English speaker, so maybe it's just that I'm not used to the other idiom! – stangdon Aug 29 '18 at 19:35
  • I mean, I am sure it would hurt a hell of a lot to have one's nails pulled with a pliers lol – Aditya Aug 29 '18 at 19:36
  • Ah, I was thinking of the kind of nails that you drive into wood with a hammer! – stangdon Aug 29 '18 at 19:37

The established expression is like pulling teeth:

If you say that making someone do something was like pulling teeth, you mean it was very difficult and they did not want to do it:

  • Getting her to tell me about her childhood was like pulling teeth.

Maybe the nail version is a variant, but not a common one as far as I can see.

  • 1
    One difference is that "pulling (finger) nails" is a torture, intended to be painful, whereas "pulling teeth" is a necessary process and although painful, can be done as gently and kindly as possible, especially as the analogy is about getting someone to talk about the past. – Weather Vane Aug 29 '18 at 19:43
  • +1 The only idiom is like pulling teeth. Like pulling nails is not an idiom at all. – Jason Bassford Aug 29 '18 at 19:47

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