Have you ever heard the expression 'in the school of hard knocks' and wondered what it means? You're not alone! But don't worry; in this article, we'll break down the meaning of this popular idiom, its possible origins, and how to use it.
If you just want to know what it means, here's the short version:
'In the school of hard knocks' is an idiomatic expression that refers to the education or learning one gains from difficult experiences or challenges in life, especially those involving hardships, adversity, or tough situations.
It isn't an actual school; as with all idioms, this saying shouldn't be interpreted literally. It's just a figure of speech.
For example, you might say,
She didn't go to business school, but she learned the ins and outs of running a company in the school of hard knocks.
This idiom uses the word 'knock,' which is synonymous with a blow, strike, or setback.
You might say:
Getting fired from my job really knocked my confidence.
Another famous saying that means the same thing is 'university of life.' You might have heard it before. You can use it in all the same contexts.
The origin of the expression "school of hard knocks" is a bit unclear, and it doesn't have a specific, well-documented origin. However, it is believed to be of American origin and has been used since at least the early 20th century.
The school of hard knocks. Experience teaches slowly, and at the cost of mistakes.
However, I could not verify this information. Another often quoted source is in the 1870 book The Men Who Advertise with the following passage:
... his misfortunes were largely owing to the inexperience of youth. Trained, however, in the school of hard knocks, he now had learned the theory of success.
While the exact origin may be uncertain, the phrase has become a widely recognized and commonly used idiomatic expression in English.
Fun fact! In 1947, Jim Comstock founded "The University of Hard Knock," an honorary but official organization with the goal of recognizing people who had become very successful despite not attending official educational institutions. It kept running for more than 60 years until it dissolved in 2014.
Now that we've covered the meaning of this idiom and its origins, here are some example sentences that use it:
After facing bankruptcy and rebuilding his business from scratch, John earned his success in the school of hard knocks.
Mark's success (which he earned at the school of hard knocks) became the target of envy among his peers who had chosen safer, more conventional paths.
His expertise in car repairs didn't come from a manual but from years of fixing broken-down vehicles in the school of hard knocks.
Instead of pursuing a traditional acting education, she entered the entertainment industry through the school of hard knocks, auditioning and learning on the job.
The coach's strategies weren't learned from textbooks but developed on the field in the school of hard knocks, facing diverse opponents and challenges.
Growing up in a tough neighborhood, she gained street smarts and survival skills in the school of hard knocks.
The author's writing style was refined not in writing workshops but in the school of hard knocks, where rejection and perseverance were the best teachers.
She was not born with a silver spoon in her mouth, and nor did she receive any formal education. She learned everything she knows at the school of hard knock and is now a successful TV show host.
The politician's ability to connect with people came from his experiences in the school of hard knocks, engaging with constituents and understanding their concerns.
There are plenty of other ways to say you picked up your skills through life experience. They're great to use if you're looking for alternative phrases. Some of them are other examples of idioms.
That concludes this article about this popular idiom. To summarize, when someone says they learned something in the school of hard knock, it means they picked it up through life experience; usually via difficult or unpleasant experiences.
Are you ready to learn more English phrases and expand your vocabulary? Check out our idioms blog for idioms, expressions, sayings, and more!
It's important to share the news to spread the truth. Most people won't.