Learning the hard way

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Learning the hard way refers to the educational results developed in the process of living life, the perspective gained as a result of trial and error—more often used in reference to the mistakes, mis-steps and misunderstandings which lead to better judgment.

The phrase is also used to describe learning from one's own efforts.[1] The idiomatic expression refers to learning from bad, difficult or unpleasant experiences.[2]

The etymology of this term developed in the early 1900s from craps, a game played with dice. An element of the game involves predicting whether the roll of dice will produce an even number. Predicting an even number is harder if the possibilities are narrowed to include only the sum of both dice showing identical values, also known as "doubles." This would mean that 2 and 2 make 4, "the hard way;" or 3 and 3 make 6, "the hard way." There is a greater probability in rolling an even-number sum composed of non-matched values: as in 1 and 5 make 6 or 2 and 4 make 6, "the easy way." Statistically, double values occur more rarely, and hence they are deemed harder to roll.[1]

"The Saturday Evening Post said charitably that perhaps every President had to learn the hard way. (Truman might have added that that was about the only way he had ever learned anything in his life.) -- David McCullough in his Pulitzer Prize-winning biography, Truman.[3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Ammer, Christine. (1997). The American Heritage dictionary of idioms. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. ISBN 978-0-395-72774-4 p. 284.
  2. ^ Olson, Elaine. (2005). Stedman's Guide to Idioms: Know the Lingo. Baltimore, Maryland: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. ISBN 978-0-7817-5746-1; OCLC 57123885 p. 66.
  3. ^ McCullough, David. (2003). Truman. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-0-7432-6029-9. p. 589.

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