"I am hard of seeing" or "I am hard of walking" are just never used. How did people come to call semi-deafness "hard of hearing"?

Especially, why is "hard of" used? I could understand "weak of hearing", but why "hard"?

  • Google NGrams does report examples for hard of seeing
    – JoseK
    Commented Jul 11, 2011 at 12:10
  • @JoseK: Yes, and graphing "seeing" against "hearing" kinda proves my point.
    – Daniel
    Commented Jul 11, 2011 at 12:14
  • May be hard of hearing stuck on because it appeared in Shakespeare
    – JoseK
    Commented Jul 11, 2011 at 12:23
  • @drm65: I have a (good) guess, but no references, so I'll avoid posting although I'm pretty sure of it... If nothing comes up or if I find something more, I'll post it.
    – Alenanno
    Commented Jul 11, 2011 at 13:03
  • @Jose: I figured it might have been. . . although there it seems to mean something along the lines of difficult to hear. Commented Jul 11, 2011 at 16:44

4 Answers 4


It's a common construction from Middle English that is used not-so-unextensively as you'd think:

Fleet of foot.

Yorkshire born and Yorkshire bred, Strong of arm and thick of head.


  • 1
    Yes, but that wasn't my question so much how the "hard" came to be applied to the "of" construction.
    – Daniel
    Commented Jul 11, 2011 at 12:17
  • 1
    I don't think there's a special reason for "hard' to be used in this way -- It's an adjective, so it fits into the adjective-"of"-noun template. Commented Jul 11, 2011 at 12:50

Interesting question. Etymonline's entry on hard explains that the phrase hard of hearing "preserves obsolete M.E. sense of having difficulty in doing something." This doesn't explain why it is only used for partial deafness. Maybe its alliteration lent it such long life.


Actually, "hard of seeing" is in use. It was coined by the late, Dr. Lorraine June Marchi Fastie. click here to read about her


What might have been omitted in the explanations here is the alliteration of the phrase, "hard of hearing". This does not address the 'hard' or the 'of' but it does point to how the musicality of the phrase strikes the ear. Therefore its longevity over the phrase "hard of seeing".

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.