“A sight for sore eyes” is a person or thing that you are extremely pleased or relieved to see. It’s similar to saying that a welcome sound is music to your ears.
It can also be a way of expressing that you think someone is good-looking or saying that some object makes you are happy when you look at it.
The phrase is sometimes confused with an “eyesore” which is something that is ugly to look at. “That old building is an eyesore.”
Sore eyes sound painful, but this phrase does not refer to a physical ailment, but to feelings of fear, worry, tension, or sorrow. The person or thing being viewed is a welcome sight to the beholder and brings relief from the feelings of worry.
While the use of the word “sore” in English to mean “severely” or “extremely” is no longer widespread, during the time of the King James Bible, it was a commonly accepted. At this time, many people wrote and spoke of, for example, being “sore afraid,” meaning “extremely afraid.”
This phrase was first recorded in A complete collection of genteel and ingenious conversation, by Jonathan Swift, 1738: “The Sight of you is good for sore Eyes.”
Since the phrase was listed in such a collection of phrases, it was likely in use for some time prior to the publication of the work. The Oxford English Dictionary has often accepted what were once considered slang words, but they don’t do so until the words in question have been used so much that everyone accepts them as part of formal language.
A good many optometrist offices have a sign outside saying, “A Site For Sore Eyes.” Haha.
As for me, I’m sore hungry. A sizzling steak will be a sight for sore eyes!