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I was speaking with an acquaintance recently and a discussion came up in which I desperately needed a word to describe someone who has experienced many hardships throughout his life.

Does such a word exist, or would I have to make do with a phrase?

EDIT: Thank you all for your answers; it is greatly appreciated. This question has gained popularity, but none of the current answers provide a word that matches the description I was looking for.

I'll elaborate a bit based on the comments on this question. The person experiencing the hardships gained much knowledge and wisdom from them. Their life was not necessarily affected negatively or positively by the hardships that they faced. Good luck in searching for the word (and even though I no longer need it, I'm dying to know).

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Do you want to imply that they are worse off or better off because of those hardships? –  BlueRaja - Danny Pflughoeft Aug 30 '11 at 18:12
    
@BlueRaja: Neither. I want to imply that they've gained some wisdom or knowledge from it. –  Purag Aug 30 '11 at 18:13
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Then how about experienced, or seasoned/hardened? –  BlueRaja - Danny Pflughoeft Aug 30 '11 at 20:35

20 Answers 20

A person who has experienced many hardships throughout his/her life is an unfortunate.

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I am not fully convinced if unfortunate is the appropriate word. –  check123 Sep 3 '11 at 14:50
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This may be politically correct but 'unfortunate' does not look appropriate especially when someone has gained some wisdom from hardship. 'Batman's surely is more unfortunate than Harry Potter' - does it look ok? –  Dilawar Sep 7 '11 at 2:33
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I do not think this is correct. Someone who has attained success despite experiencing many hardships in their life would not be described as "an unfortunate". –  sml Sep 7 '11 at 2:42
    
@Dilawar: I don't get how "politically correct" factors into this. Usually that term I've seen used for things like either something that is supposed to avoid causing offense (which usually means like avoiding "racist" or discriminatory language), or something that is literally "politically" correct as in conforming to some "mainstream" or popular political position. How does this do with offense, or politics? –  mike3 May 7 at 6:08
    
@mike3 Point taken. But I guess its too late to rephrase it :-( . –  Dilawar May 9 at 15:57

You could try survivor:

  • one who outlives another
  • one who lives through affliction
  • an animal that survives in spite of adversity
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If the person has undergone hardships, but has not let it destroy them, then they are resilient. That is, they bounce back from multiple hardships.

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Downtrodden seems to fit to me, but it might depend on the source of the hardship.

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Someone who endures hardships over a long period of time is long-suffering.

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But only if they do so with grace. If they wallow in it and gripe the whole time they are not necessarily long-suffering, right? –  Jared Updike Sep 1 '11 at 17:28

I would use a phrase. You’ve a wide choice, though some are more informal than others. A few that occur to me immediately:

  • someone who’s been through (or come up through) the school of hard knocks
  • someone who’s had a rough/tough/hard life
  • someone who’s never/not had an easy time of it

I’m not at all sure that there is a single word that conveys just that idea. I see that resilient and sufferer have been suggested, but neither really works. One can have experienced many hardships without being particularly resilient, and in any case the word puts the emphasis on the reaction to hardship, not on the fact of having experienced hardship. Sufferer is simply far too broad (and in many cases probably too strong as well).

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If the person has endured the hardships for a specific cause (children, job, religion, etc.) they are often called a martyr.

If they have been unlucky enough to find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time (once or repeatedly), one the following might be more appropriate:

  • wretch
  • poor devil
  • target
  • victim
  • unfortunate
  • whipping boy
  • scapegoat
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+1 for martyr, which I was just about to suggest myself. –  Barrie England Oct 11 '11 at 6:58

There's also Job from the Book of Job.

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+1 for the archetypal "sufferer". –  FumbleFingers Sep 3 '11 at 15:19

I suggest sufferer.

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If an adjective will do, you might say that that person is beleaguered.

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Beset with difficulties -- good answer. –  JLG Mar 9 '12 at 5:27

I would suggest "Veteran", which has denotations of someone with prior experience, and connotations of someone who has been through hardships and survived.

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That implies actual warfare to me, rather than life's hardships –  simchona Sep 7 '11 at 3:01
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really? In software development with use the term "Veteran Programmer" all the time, has all to do with past experience, not warfare. Obviously, the most used interpretation is war veteran, but I believe many industries use the term "veteran" for the more experienced and long-serving. –  Jordaan Mylonas Sep 7 '11 at 3:17
    
To use "veteran", you'd have to add some modifier to take out the war connotation. For example, you use "veteran programmer". –  simchona Sep 7 '11 at 3:27

Seasoned/ hardened can work fine.

You can also try: experienced, weathered, time-served, toughened, inured, case-hardened, annealed.

You could try a phrase like: annealed by adversities, went through rough patches..

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"weathered" is what came to my mind. –  Urbycoz Mar 8 '12 at 12:55

In Australia we regularly use the word "battler" to describe this type of person. I actually thought the word was more widespread internationally, but a quick google seems to show that's not the case.

I think the word is very descriptive of someone who constantly has to fight their way through life.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aussie_battler

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A self-made person refers to someone who, despite starting out from a disadvantageous position, overcomes difficulties along the way and rises to a position of success/prominence.

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A recent NY Times magazine article NY Times describes adversity as the perfect way to become "gritty" and which can be just the thing that leads to success in life.
Gritty can be defined as American Heritage Dictionary "Showing resolution and fortitude; plucky: a gritty decision."

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The best word I could come up with is "tried" or cultivated. Essentially, there is no one word. I have searched and searched and found only words the danced around the meaning you wish to express. I searched avidly because I wish to describe myself in such a way.

Essentially the meaning of which you speak: one who is wise as a result of hardhip can easily be implied by the tone and context of which the word is used:

for example, "cultivated" when used in the context of someone who reached success as a result of being groomed would have a meaning entirely opposite of the meaning you wish to express,

but in the context of a person who has persevered through hardships in relation to a story explaining such hardships, the word "cultivated" could be spoken in such a tone and context to make it understood he is sagacious as a result of his/her trials.

Even the word "wise,"used ironically in reference to someone (perhaps weather-worn) who would not normally be associated with wisdom, could be made to have a deeper meaning that would encompass the nuance of "wizened by hardship."

It is the context.

In my oppinion, "tried" is the closest I could come, but I admit, it isn't quite juicy enough by itself.

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I like your answer, however, are you trying to say that they are someone who has been through the "trial by fire" ? If so, please consider editing your answer suitably. –  moonstar2001 Jan 21 at 13:08

If you take slang, there is "Sad girl", which refers specifically to a female who has gone through a lot of hardships, but still doesn't let her suffering drag her down, and remains dignified. This, however, is taken from Urban Dictionary, on which not too much weight can be put.

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More adjectives I could suggest are: steadfast, unyielding, and undaunted.

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I think "streetwise" is the best answer for me.

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Suffering hardships doesn't always make you street wise –  Juan Mendes Dec 3 '13 at 17:30

I used "pre-disastered" in a similar case. Getting into a relationship with someone who was pre-disastered had less pressure.

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