Etymology
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hardscrabble (n.)

in popular use from c. 1826 as a U.S. colloquial name for any barren or impoverished place "where a livelihood may be obtained only under great hardship and difficulty" [OED]; from hard (adj.) + noun from scrabble (v.). Noted in 1813 as a place-name in New York state; first recorded in journals of Lewis and Clark (1804) as the name of a prairie. Perhaps the original notion was "vigorous effort made under great stress," though this sense is recorded slightly later (1812). As an adjective by 1845.

updated on May 23, 2015

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Definitions of hardscrabble from WordNet

hardscrabble (adj.)
barely satisfying a lower standard;
the sharecropper's hardscrabble life
From wordnet.princeton.edu, not affiliated with etymonline.