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, 2018 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, 2018 at 19:36
  • Ah, I was thinking of the kind of nails that you drive into wood with a hammer!
    – stangdon
    Aug 29, 2018 at 19:37

1 Answer 1


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. Aug 29, 2018 at 19:43
  • +1 The only idiom is like pulling teeth. Like pulling nails is not an idiom at all. Aug 29, 2018 at 19:47

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