Famous Sayings #161 — ‘Hardheaded Person’

August 25, 2019

I told you not to hang out with those kids because they’d get you in trouble. You’re hardheaded.

New York Comic Con 2015 - The Thing
You might say that The Thing (Ben Grimm) is hardheaded, but his entire body is hard. Image by by Rich.S. via Flickr. Some rights reserved.

This is the second Famous Sayings post in as many days, but it involves a term that is easy to understand, although the type of person it describes may be somewhat difficult.


What Is a Hardheaded Person?

The phrase hardheaded (also spelled hard-headed) can mean one of two things:

  1. Stubborn; obstinate (Merriam-Webster)
  2. Tough; realistic; shrewd (Collins English Dictionary); not influenced by emotions (Cambridge English Dictionary)

A hardheaded person in the first sense is difficult. Since they are stubborn, it is hard to change their mind and they might not even be turned around on a subject without an argument (Various). A hardheaded person might not listen to anyone’s advice and just do what they want, with disastrous results. This is a decidedly negative connotation.

In the second sense, a hard-headed person is practical, focused, and they do not let their emotions affect their decision-making. This is a decidedly positive connotation.


When Was the Term ‘Hardheaded’ coined?

It’s not entirely clear when the term was coined, but it seems that it was first recorded sometime in the 16th century. The use of the word in the second sense came much later.

  • According to Merriam-Webster, the use of “hardheaded” in the first sense was recorded around 1532.
  • An entry at Dictionary.com states that the word was first recorded around 1575-1585.
  • According to the Online Etymology Dictionary the term (meaning “stubborn”) was recorded in the 1580s. The use of the word hardhead to mean “practical” or “shrewd” was first attested in 1779.

Did You Know?

Here are some more facts about the term “hardheaded”:

  • The usage of the term in this sense is common in the United States and Canada.
  • The use of the term in this sense is common in Great Britain.
  • The word evolved from the term hardhead. The term “hardhead” meant “dull person” and it was recorded in the 1510s (Harper).
  • A similar term in Dutch might be hardhoofdig, which means “stupid.”

Works Cited

“HARD-HEADED | definition in the Cambridge English Dictionary.” Cambridge English Dictionary. Cambridge University Press. Web. Retrieved 25 Aug 2019. <https://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/hard-headed>.

“Hardheaded | Definition of Hardheaded by Dictionary.com.” Dictionary.com. Web. Retrieved 25 Aug 2019. <https://www.dictionary.com/browse/hardheaded>.

“Hardheaded | Definition of Hardheaded by Merriam-Webster.” Merriam-Webster. Web. Retrieved 25 Aug 2019. <https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/hardheaded>.

“Hard-headed definition and meaning.” Collins English Dictionary. Web. Retrieved 25 Aug 2019. <https://www.collinsdictionary.com/us/dictionary/english/hard-headed>.

Harper, Douglass. “hard-headed | Origin and meaning of hard-headed by Online Etymology Dictionary.” Online Etymology Dictionary. Web. Retrieved 25 August 2019. <https://www.etymonline.com/word/hard-headed>. Various Authors. “hard headed.” Urban Dictionary. Web. Retrieved 25 Aug 2019. <https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=hard%20headed>.

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