In stitches


What's the meaning of the phrase 'In stitches'?

Laughing uproariously.

What's the origin of the phrase 'In stitches'?

To be in stitches is to be in such a paroxysm of laughter as to be in physical pain. The allusion implicit in the phrase is to that of a sharp pain – like being pricked with a needle.

The phrase was first used by Shakespeare in Twelfth Night, 1602.

MARIA:
If you desire the spleen, and will laugh yourself into stitches, follow me. Yond gull Malvolio is turned heathen, a very renegado; for there is no Christian, that means to be saved by believing rightly, can ever believe such impossible passages of grossness. He’s in yellow stockings.

Despite the usage in Shakespeare, the phrase didn’t become established in the language and there are no other records of it until the 20th century. This entry in The Lowell Sun, in July 1914, is the earliest non-Shakespearian record that I can find:

“There’s a new face among the members in Ben Loring, a natural-born comedian, who seems to have no difficulty whatever in keeping his audience in stitches of laughter and glee.”

Trend of in stitches in printed material over time

Gary Martin is a writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.

Gary Martin

Writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.