The Apple CEO, Tim Cook, has recently published an open letter where he says:

... It’s also given me the skin of a rhinoceros.

I am wondering where this expression "skin of a rhinoceros" is originated from. Allegedly, Eleanor Roosevelt said:

Every woman in public life needs to develop skin as tough as rhinoceros hide.

Is this the origin?

  • The origin is quite intuitive in my opinion...are you looking for its first usage? To have the hide of an elephant/rhinoceros: (www.macmillandictionary.com): to be very difficult to upset because you do not care what people say about you.
    – user66974
    Commented Oct 30, 2014 at 13:42
  • I understand it is quite intuitive. Yes, I am interested in the first use. "hide of an elephant/rhinoceros" is good to know, thank you @Josh61 ! Commented Oct 30, 2014 at 14:14
  • Them that takes cakes / Which the Parsee-man bakes / Makes dreadful mistakes. Commented Oct 30, 2014 at 14:52
  • @BrianDonovan "HOW THE RHINOCEROS GOT HIS SKIN" By Rudyard Kipling in 1902? Commented Oct 30, 2014 at 15:13
  • For what it's worth, rhinoceroses (or rhinocerotes, if you want to be pedantic) were once classified (along with elephants and sometimes hippos) as pachyderms, from the Greek for "thick-skinned". The skin of pachyderms is thicker than the skin of most other mammals. The word is obsolete in zoology nowadays, but is still sometimes used colloquially as a synonym for "elephant".
    – tautophile
    Commented Jul 28, 2018 at 18:34

2 Answers 2


The OED has this quote from the Caledonian Mercury in 1836:

1836 Caledonian Mercury 12 Dec., Even this positive testimony could not pierce the rhinoceros hide of bigotry.

  • Thank you! This may be the oldest record. Certainly it is a lot older than I thought! Commented Nov 1, 2014 at 0:17

As an Americanism, I honestly cannot remember if it was Justice Cardozo or Judge Learned Hand who said that "in the marketplace of ideas, one must possess the hide of a rhino." But it was one of the founding principles of First Amendment Constitutional Law.

  • That may be true, but it doesn't point to the origin of the phrase, which as the other answer says is at least as early as 1836. Even in America it was used as far back as 1852 (or earlier—I didn't try to do a thorough search to find an earlier example).
    – Laurel
    Commented Jul 28, 2018 at 16:08

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