It's better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick
Posted by Word Camel on January 25, 2002
I have always wondered about the origin of this phrase. I came tantalizingly close to finding it a few years through the magic off Boolean logic and the Internet. I followed a link to a page entitled " Ancient Celtic Sayings", only to find that it was no longer there. I did look at the previous discussion of this in the archives:
: Eric Partridge, Dictionary of Catch Phrases: American and British, from the Sixteenth Century to the Present Day, mentions ". . . poke in the eye . . ." as an Australian item in a group of similar phrases of which he says most seem to have originated late in the 19th century. This group includes "better than a kick in the a s s with a frozen boot" (Canadian) and "better than a slap across the belly with a wet fish" (US).
I am still haunted byt the mising web page and wondering if anyone has come across another explanation that might deny or confirm its "Ancient Celtic" origins.