Is there an idiom available, that is exactly opposite to "Cake walk" or "Child's play"? I am looking for something exactly synonymous with "Very difficult" or "strenuous".
This task is really _______(difficult).
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A herculean task is one that is all but impossible. Merriam-Webster explains,
The hero Hercules, son of the god Zeus by a human mother, was famous for his superhuman strength. To pacify the wrath of the god Apollo, he was forced to perform twelve enormously difficult tasks, or "labors". These ranged from descending into the underworld to bring back the terrifying dog that guarded its entrance to destroying the many-headed monster called the Hydra. Any job or task that's extremely difficult or calls for enormous strength is therefore called herculean.
You could describe such a problem using the idiomatic phrase:
A hard/tough/difficult nut to crack
Cambridge Online Dictionary defines the idiom as follows:
A problem that is very difficult to solve or a person who is very difficult to understand.
Collins Online provides two different definitions:
- a person not easily persuaded or won over
- a thing not easily understood
The Free Dictionary provides the following definition and example:
A difficult problem to solve
Example: A company whose product has sold well in the States may find the European market a tougher nut to crack.
May not be an exact opposite but you may be able to call it an uphill battle/fight/struggle.
an uphill battle/fight/struggle (also an uphill job/task)
if something you are trying to do is an uphill struggle, it is very difficult, often because other people are causing problems for you
We're trying to expand our business, but it's an uphill battle.
Cambridge Idioms Dictionary, 2nd ed. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2006. Reproduced with permission.
A common phrase I have heard is "like herding cats," which is relatable to anyone who has ever owned a cat and tried to get them to do anything.
Like pulling teeth: If you say that making someone do something was like pulling teeth, you mean it was very difficult and they did not want to do it.
Example: Getting her to tell me about her childhood was like pulling teeth. --[Cambridge Dictionary],
Other example sentences from Oxford Living Dictionaries:
Journalists are writing over and over again that this is the most secretive military campaign in history, and that getting information from you and your colleagues is like pulling teeth.
We did the show in Toronto and it was like pulling teeth to get people to participate.
While often used in reference to information extraction, it is far from limited to only that context.
Rocket science is an informal term meaning very difficult, where the difficulty is in skill rather than stamina. It is usually used in the negative, "this isn't rocket science", but doesn't have to be as in the following examples:
(There is also a similar term brain surgery.)
A tough row to hoe (alternatively, long row to hoe, historically hard row to hoe, recently misstated as tough road to hold):
Fig. a difficult task to carry out; a heavy set of burdens. It’s a tough row to hoe, but hoe it you will. This is not an easy task. This is a hard row to hoe.
A difficult course, hard work to accomplish, as in He knew he’d have a tough row to hoe by running against this popular incumbent.
a difficult situation to deal with: Teachers have a tough row to hoe in today’s schools.
Alternative form of long row to hoe
long row to hoe
A difficult, arduous task or set of tasks; a lengthy, demanding project.
Another option is heavy lifting:
Fig. Serious or difficult work: credited her for doing all the heavy lifting on the project.
hard work: A team of researchers did the heavy lifting for the author.
The most demanding part of an endeavour; work requiring the most effort, resources, or consideration.
difficult work that needs a lot of effort With only three weeks until his contract ends, you won’t find him doing any of the heavy lifting.
There is the idiomatic expression sticky wicket:
a difficult or delicate problem or situation.
- It's a bit of a sticky wicket.
- She was on a sticky wicket when she saw her friend steal the fund-raiser money.
For a specific opposite to cake walk, or an absurdly easy task that can be accomplished with no difficulty, you could try gauntlet. This was originally a form of corporal punishment where one had to walk steadily through a line of people all hitting you with blunt instruments.
run the gauntlet
1. Lit. to race, as a punishment, between parallel lines of men who thrash one as one runs. The knight was forced to doff his clothes and run the gauntlet.
2. Run the gauntlet of something Fig. to endure a series of problems, threats, or criticism. After the play, the director found himself running the gauntlet of questions and doubts about his ability.
Sometimes a task is referred to as 'Sisyphean', after the Greek myth about Sisyphus being condemned eternally to repeatedly roll a heavy stone up a hill, only to have it roll down again.
That term certainly suggests a strenuous task that's effectively impossible, although perhaps most specifically in the sense of it being never-ending rather than simply requiring a huge amount of effort to complete.
I typically use "Nightmare" in this context.
One of the definitions according to oxford:
A person or situation that is very difficult to deal with: ‘buying wine can be a nightmare if you don't know enough about it’
In moments like this we can turn to the masterpiece that is "How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria?"
Here is an old fashioned idiom that might interest the OP. It means to attempt the impossible, or to place one difficulty on top of another.
To pile (or heap) Pelion on Ossa
Add an extra difficulty to something which is already onerous.
‘But was it worth while to heap Pelion on Ossa, to shake the whole world, to create such a cataclysm of colour, merely to raise a smile?’
A wooded mountain in Greece, near the coast of SE Thessaly, rising to 1,548 m (5,079 ft). It was held in Greek mythology to be the home of the centaurs, and the giants were said to have piled Mounts Olympus and Ossa on its summit in their attempt to reach heaven and destroy the gods.
Knowing the idiom itself will set you apart from the masses.
- This task is like piling Pelion on Ossa, as my professor of Classics was fond of saying.
If the OP is looking for the opposite of cakewalk (usually spelled as one word), then in British English there's the idiom wade through treacle
- This task is like wading through thick treacle.
The British term treacle can be substituted with the AmEng molasses, without changing its meaning.
Dictionary.com says of non-trivial, as used in technology:
Requiring real thought or significant computing power. Often used as an understated way of saying that a problem is quite difficult or impractical, or even entirely unsolvable ("Proving P=NP is nontrivial"). The preferred emphatic form is "decidedly nontrivial".
This can be extended to non-technical situations for example:
Persuading my children to eat their vegetables is a non-trivial job.
It fits cleanly into the OP's sentence:
This task is really non-trivial.
Another idiomatic expression which may work is "near to impossible" (also, next to impossible).
This task is really near/next to impossible.
To be of such difficulty as to be or seem almost impossible.
The promises of the candidate during her presidential campaign are near to impossible to achieve, but they have garnered a huge following of dedicated supporters.
Farlex Dictionary of Idioms. © 2015 Farlex, Inc, all rights reserved.
It is supposed to be next to impossible to escape from a high-tech, maximum security prison.
Cambridge Dictionary of American Idioms Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2003. Reproduced with permission.
As a Naval Aviator I often use the term "Varsity" to describe a very challenging situation as do many of my fellow Aviators.
After a very difficult approach and landing in very challenging conditions it would be a common response to say: "It was varsity out there tonight", in response to a question about the difficulty caused by the evening's weather.
Please excuse the vulgar term but in my opinion this is the exact opposite of a cake-walk
A shit fight
The Urban Dictionary defdines it as
A great, messy struggle, such as a freeway at rush hour or registration at a large university.
It is fairly commonly used in Australia to mean something that is such a hassle it is not worth doing and should be avoided if at all possible.
How about daunting: tending to overwhelm or intimidate; ex: a daunting task