I am confused about the uses of the word hustle. According to the dictionary, to hustle means a lot of negative things, like:

force (someone) to move hurriedly or unceremoniously in a specified direction.

obtain by forceful action or persuasion.

coerce or pressure someone into doing or choosing something

sell aggressively

obtain by illicit action; swindle; cheat.

However, it is used in positive inspirational quotes, such as:

“Good things happen to those who hustle.” - Anaïs Nin

"What you lack in talent can be made up with desire, hustle and giving 110 percent all the time." - Don Zimmer

“Good things come to those who wait, but only the things left over by those who hustle.” – Abraham Lincoln

Why are the dictionary definitions so negative? There is not a single positive mention of the word in there, isn't that deflecting the reality?

  • 1
    What dictionary did you use? merriam-webster.com/dictionary/hustle has a number of definitions - positive, negative, and neutral.
    – nxx
    Mar 12, 2014 at 17:21
  • I might have been lazy, I used the dictionary that pops in Google when you just search for "hustle"
    – Cristian
    Mar 13, 2014 at 12:04
  • Got it :) It's a good idea to check a few different dictionaries and let us know which ones you checked. And remember: there's no such thing as "the dictionary"!
    – nxx
    Mar 13, 2014 at 12:13
  • the thing that irritates me is that none of the dictionaries has this definition, which seems suitable to its meaning when used in the context of examples I gave: "to try very hard, giving your best at acheiving something that you want so badly, while not being discouraged by failure". Wouldn't that definition suit the purpose it's used for in those examples?
    – Cristian
    Mar 13, 2014 at 12:13
  • 1
    I think "giving your best at achieving something that you want so badly, while not being discouraged by failure" is reading too much into it. "hustle" can certainly connote that depending on the context, but its intrinsic meaning is (among other things) "to make strenuous efforts" or "to obtain by energetic activity" and the like. It's just an action toward achieving something beneficial.
    – nxx
    Mar 13, 2014 at 12:27

4 Answers 4


"hustle" can certainly connote "trying very hard", "giving your best", and "not being discouraged by failure", depending on the context, but its definitions in such regard are:

to obtain by energetic activity

to make strenuous efforts to obtain

So hustling in this sense is just a focused action toward achieving something beneficial and doesn't in itself denote the positive qualities that you mention.


To hustle or hustling is used in two very different ways.

  1. Action a person who is conning another person out of money (or something) is taking.

  2. The meaning that someone is trying hard or doing something quickly.


  1. That guy is trying to hustle you. Don't play his little game.

  2. John is really hustling today. The rest of you need to step up your game.

So when used in the first meaning it is negative (maybe even super negative). And when used the second way it is positive to be hustling.


The dictionary does contain positive, and only slightly pejorative, definitions:

(1) To make someone go quickly where you want them to go or to make them do what you want them to do.

(3) [US] To move in a quick, effective way.

(Oh, this is Macmillan, though. The other dictionary.)


Don't forget the modern context in which the word "Hustle" is used, which is the pursuit of money. For example, if I launch a business on the side, it's my "side hustle".

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