What is the English word(s) for a true experience when someone has been through a learning process during her/his life.

In my native language, it's commonly said: She/he has been "eating salt and sour fruit" during her/his life. That's why she/he can easily handle that difficult problem.

*sour fruit is usually tamarind

  • Someone has been through a hard life.
    – Khan
    Mar 11, 2016 at 4:50
  • 1
    Other possibilities: someone or something has been through a trial by fire, meaning that they have been tested by difficult experience and come through it. Or someone has seen the elephant, meaning that they have real, first-hand experience of something.
    – stangdon
    Mar 11, 2016 at 13:30
  • "not his/her first rodeo"....as in they've done this before
    – user31331
    Mar 11, 2016 at 17:57

4 Answers 4


She's been put through the wringer more than once. Usually the idiom refers to a single harrowing experience. A "wringer" or mangler was a machine used to squeeze water from washed and rinsed clothing.

  • 1
    It's interesting how some idioms persist long after the tools they reference aren't being used. (One of my favorite examples is: you sound like a broken record.) I've never used a wringer in my life, but I've used this expression more than once. Good answer.
    – J.R.
    Mar 11, 2016 at 6:26
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    My grandmother had a wringer washing machine that I can just barely remember. Having one's "tit (caught) in the wringer" is a particularly graphic image of a person in distress. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12973221 Mar 11, 2016 at 15:18

You could say:

He's been through the school of hard knocks.

Wikipedia says:

The School of Hard Knocks is an idiomatic phrase meaning the (sometimes painful) education one gets from life's usually negative experiences

The phrase has made its way into some dictionaries. I think Macmillan's definition is a good one:

the school of hard knocks - the difficult experiences that happen in someone’s life and that influence the type of person they become

In literature, I've seen it sometimes used as a proper noun, and other times used as an idiomatic phrase. Every once in a while, I'll see it put in "scare quotes." For example:

I have watched entrepreneurs learn about the business world the only way they knew how: from the School of Hard Knocks.1

He'd clearly grown up in the school of hard knocks and had elevated himself to his current position of wealth and authority.2

John has a bachelor's degree in economics from Loyola University of Chicago with additional concentrations in accounting and finance and also holds an Honorary Doctorate from the “School of Hard Knocks”.3

Incidentally, I like the idiom used in your native language, too. She's eaten more than her fair share of tamarind. I may use that someday.

1 from The 51 Fatal Business Errors and How to Avoid Them by Jim Muehlhausen, 2008
2 from The Line Between Here and Gone by Andrea Kane, 2012
3 from The Advantage of Real Estate by Patrick Riddle, et al., 2007

  • 1
    Don't leave the salt :)
    – Student
    Mar 11, 2016 at 12:26

Naturally there is more than one idiomatic phrase describing a prolonged hardship.

One I personally like is

(S)He had a tough paper round

  • 2
    Interesting - I have never heard this in the US. I wonder if it's a Commonwealth English saying? (I would give my left arm for a geographic Google search sometimes...)
    – stangdon
    Mar 11, 2016 at 13:27
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    I have never heard it in Canada. Mar 11, 2016 at 15:12
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    I searched the interwebs for this phrase and it seems to mean "aged badly" or "looks older than they are." I wouldn't say, from this quick survey of the literature, that it means they are well experienced in the way the OP indicates. Incidentally "paper round" seems to mean the same thing as "paper route" in other dialects.
    – stannius
    Mar 11, 2016 at 16:54

"Raised by Wolves"?

Would that be an appropriate analogy?

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    In my unscientific experience, "raised by wolves" is usually used to emphasise that the person (supposedly) lacks a typical/civilized background and therefore can't deal with something, rather than to highlight that they're particularly good at the things that (metaphorical) wolves are good at. So with care you probably could use it this way, but normally it means "bad at having a polite conversation" rather than "good at howling" :-) Mar 11, 2016 at 14:55
  • That's a fantastic analysis of the phrase, I will keep this in mind for the future. Thanks :) Mar 11, 2016 at 15:35

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