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What does it mean to "have a hard-on for someone" in a non-sexual sense? I've heard it used in contexts that make it seem like the subject is acting aggressive or belligerent toward "someone". Is that right?

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Are you sure the phrase wasn't "to be hard on someone"? That would definitely mean acting aggressive –  Rahul Feb 11 '11 at 6:16
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Someone on meta recently coined the term (I think it was original) "investment boner" :) –  Benjol Feb 11 '11 at 6:30
    
@benjol: A "boner" in this kind of context would refer to a "faux pas." As in having one in public (even through one's pants). It would basically be at least as embarassing as "flatulence." –  Tom Au Jul 11 '11 at 17:39
    
i think it was Jay McInerney in "Bright Lights, Big City" who once said (paraphrasing) that if references to sex, sports, and war were removed from the lexicon of men in corporate america, they would be forced to communicate in pure mathematics. –  doug Dec 6 '11 at 7:43

6 Answers 6

up vote 7 down vote accepted

It can mean that they have a grudge and are actively trying to settle it, which would often include aggressive or belligerent behavior. I think the meaning comes from a general sense of being focused on someone to a degree reminiscent of sexual fascination.

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Also note there is a variant, to have a hate-on for someone. –  Dave M G Aug 12 '12 at 9:24

It can go either way. When the police "have a hard on" for someone, it means they're looking to put that person in jail.

But it can mean approval as well. Consider this line from Stanley Kubrick's film Full Metal Jacket:

Gunnery Sergeant Hartman: Today ... is Christmas! There will be a magic show at zero-nine-thirty! Chaplain Charlie will tell you about how the free world will conquer Communism with the aid of God and a few Marines! God has a hard-on for Marines because we kill everything we see! He plays His games, we play ours! To show our appreciation for so much power, we keep heaven packed with fresh souls! God was here before the Marine Corps! So you can give your heart to Jesus, but your ass belongs to the Corps! Do you ladies understand?

Clearly, Sgt. Hartman means that God likes Marines when he uses this expression.

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+1. This second sense is how I’ve heard it used outside sexual-contexts — meaning “to really like someone/something, to be really excited about them”. By obvious analogy from the sexual meaning… –  PLL Feb 11 '11 at 1:00
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@PLL: Yes, and now that I think about it, the police also say they "like" someone for a crime, meaning that person is a suspect. So "to have a hard on" for someone maybe is used in that sense: ironic "liking". –  Robusto Feb 11 '11 at 1:08
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+1 from me. Gunnery Sergeant Hartman is perhaps the last character in American film that i would expect to be mentioned on this Site. –  doug Dec 6 '11 at 7:46

I suggest that the shared concept is being aroused, sexually or some other way.

  1. Sexual Arousal: The directly biological sexual form. (Discretion suggests I not provide an example.)

  2. Aggressive Arousal: A person can have a hard on in an aggressive, competitive manner, as the accepted answer suggests. Testosterone can fuel both sexual and aggressive arousal, so there's a biological link. "Bob had a real hard on for Dave's job."

  3. Broadly Desirous Arousal: A person can also have a hard on for anything desirable: a new videogame, a new model of car, even eating at a particular restaurant. "Bob had a serious hard on for the Tesla Roadster."

(None of the existing answers included the general concept of arousal so I figured I'd add one.)

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Well, it's a clearly sexual term, but I've never heard it used in an aggressive sense. When used non-sexually, it generally would indicate that someone really likes something (or someone) and is inclined to talk it up at any opportunity. There's also a connotation that they're rather obnoxiously persistent about doing so.

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I've heard the phrase used in a corporate setting to describe someone who is aggressively focused on surpassing or doing down a particular rival, or on defeating a project or proposal. In this usage, I believe that deploying a phrase with sexual significance is a kind of intensifier, because the speaker is juxtaposing that significance on such a non-sexual context.

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I believe that there are two somewhat similar expressions to using the term "hard on." Only one of them has a sexual connotation.

To BE "hard on" somebody is to be tough or difficult with them. This can come from either a man or a woman. It often refers to "aggression" but has no sexual connotation.

To HAVE a "hard on" is for a man's particular body part to have a certain "hardness" (when it is more often "soft" or "limp".) And that takes place in a sexual context.

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protected by RegDwigнt Aug 12 '12 at 12:31

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