Green’s Dictionary of Slang

school of hard knocks n.

also college of hard knocks, university…, school of hard fact

(orig. US) a hard life, seen as a means of education.

Men Who Advertise 161: Trained [...] in the school of hard knocks, he now had learned the theory of success, and from that time on has had it.
Vancouver Indep. 14 Feb. 2/4: There is nothing that so develops a sturdy, self-reliant [...] manhood as to graduate from ‘the college of hard knocks’.
[US]Sedalia Wkly Bazoo (MO) 26 Dec. 7/3: We have all graduated from the College of Hard Knocks, where misfortune [...] and disasters were the professors; kicking, cuffs and blows the curriculum.
R. Rockwell Golden Inheritance 61: ‘After you have been disciplined for a time in the school of hard knocks you will round out most gracefully.’ ‘Is the school of hard knocks a necessary course?’ ‘To most natures it is’.
[US]Dakota Farmers’ Leader (Canton, SD) 5 Feb. 3/5: The School of Hard Knocks was where Andrew Carnegie gained his start.
[Scot]Aberdeen Jrnl 19 Dec. 4/6: The school of hard knocks in which he was educated made a man of him.
Lexington Advertiser (MS) 26 July 1/5: He [...] knows what it is to ‘handle the smutty end of the chunk.’ The only college he ever graduated from is the College of hard Knocks.
[US]Ade Knocking the Neighbors 24: They had been brought up in the School of Hard Knocks, but they wanted Bertrand and Isabel to go through Life on Ball Bearings.
[UK]E. Pugh City Of The World 82: To-day he is taking his first lesson from Hunger in the School of Hard Fact.
[US]P. Kyne Cappy Ricks 248: No young man ever learned a great deal [...] in the college of hard knocks.
[UK]Nottingham Eve. Post 2 Feb. 1/2: Few man have had such a fight with poverty in the ‘school of hard knocks’ as the Rev. G.A. Metcalfe.
[US]S. Lewis Arrowsmith 96: The graduates of the University of Hard Knocks judge a physician as they judge a business man.
K.C. Star 23 Oct. n.p.: Looks as if Carnera and Tunney are fraternity brothers in the school of hard knocks [DA].
[Aus]A. Russell Gone Nomad 13: It was the only university I know—that Bush College of Hard Knocks.
[Scot]Aberdeen Jrnl 13 Feb. 2/4: Asked by a lady [...] what college he had attended, he replied, ‘The school of hard knocks’.
[Aus]D. Stivens Jimmy Brockett 52: No school is worth a cracker to you when it came to the real business of life. Myself, I’m a graduate from the school of hard knocks.
[US]‘Ed Lacy’ Men from the Boys (1967) 25: You never needed no bill to go to my college, the University of Hard Knocks.
[Aus]A. Seymour One Day of the Year (1977) I i: The University of hard knocks, that’s all I ever had.
[NZ]G. Slatter Pagan Game (1969) 172: Only a bush carpenter, but I’ve travelled, I’ve read, I’ve taught meself in the school of hard knocks.
[US]A. Cornwell ‘Notes from a Gay Black Feminist’ in Jay & Young (1979) 473: There is very little insulation between them and ‘the school of hard knocks,’ as my mother is so fond of calling life in the raw.
[US]J. Wambaugh Glitter Dome (1982) 128: Wilfred James Boyle had been a student in eleven schools of very hard knocks.
[UK]K. Lette Mad Cows 117: The school of hard knocks has an accelerated curriculum.
[US]‘Master Pimp’ Pimp’s Rap 23: I graduated from pimp school many years ago — at the university of hard Knocks where I received a PhD degree.
[UK]Guardian Guide 5–11 Feb. 10: Christian Gangsta rappers can easily match their ‘OG’ counterparts in the school of hard knocks.