touch a nerve

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An allusion to the sharp sensation felt when a dentist or surgeon physically disturbs an exposed nerve.


touch a nerve

  1. (idiomatic) To make a remark or perform a deed which produces a strong response, especially an emotional response such as anxiety or annoyance, because it calls to mind something which has been a source of concern or embarrassment.
    • 1951, "National Affairs: Right & Wrong," Time, 27 Aug.:
      Louis B. Seltzer, editor of the Cleveland Press, . . . banged out an editorial that raised uncomfortable questions about the state of the U.S. at a moment of world responsibility. His piece touched a nerve: in the following week, 1,000 people had tried to reach him by phone or written him letters or stopped him on the street to talk about it.
    • 1960, P. G. Wodehouse, chapter 4, in Jeeves in the Offing:
      The austerity of my tone seemed to touch a nerve and kindle the fire that always slept in this vermilion-headed menace to the common weal, for she frowned a displeased frown and told me for heaven's sake to stop goggling like a dead halibut.
    • 2007, Simon Romero, "Gunmen attack opponents of Chávez's bid to extend power," New York Times, 8 Nov. (retrieved 30 Aug. 2009):
      The president's supporters . . . are trying to exert greater control over universities, touching a nerve among an increasingly defiant student movement.


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