School of Hard Knocks

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The School of Hard Knocks or University of Hard Knocks is an idiomatic phrase meaning the (sometimes painful) education one gets from life's usually negative experiences, often contrasted with formal education. The term is frequently misattributed to George Ade,[1] but was actually coined by Elbert Hubbard in a piece he wrote on himself for Cosmopolitan in 1902.[2][3]

It is a phrase which is most-typically used by a person to claim a level of wisdom imparted by life experience, which should be considered at least equal in merit to academic knowledge. It is a response that may be given when one is asked about his or her education, particularly if they do not have an extensive formal education but rather life experiences that should be valued instead. It may also be used facetiously, to suggest that formal education is not of practical value compared with "street" experience. In the UK and New Zealand, the phrases "University of Life" and "School of Hard Knocks" may be used interchangeably.[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Online Etymology Dictionary". 
  2. ^ Hubbard, Elbert (January 1902), "An Interesting Personality: Elbert Hubbard", The Cosmopolitan, vol. XXXII no. 3, p. 317, archived from the original on September 7, 2012, So that is how I got my education, such as it is. I am a graduate of the University of Hard Knocks, and I've taken several postgraduate courses. 
  3. ^ "Elbert Hubbard and his Critics", The Literary Digest, p. 638, May 10, 1902 
  4. ^ NZ Herald - David Hill: Struggling for right meaning