An Ugly Duckling

On my writing blog I have been writing about the meanings and origins of various idioms we use in everyday speech and writing. Many of these expressions relate to birds in some way. Here is another of them.

This week’s idiom: ‘An ugly duckling.’


An awkward, ungainly, unattractive child who develops into a graceful, beautiful adult is said to be an ugly duckling.


The expression comes from the Hans Christian Andersen story called The Ugly Duckling. It was first published in 1843 and is widely regarded as a classic children’s story.

A mother duck hatches her brood only to find one duckling larger and uglier than the rest. He was very much a misfit and soon received much harassment from the other barnyard residents who eventually drive him away to fend for himself. After a struggle to survive the ugly ‘duckling’ develops into a beautiful swan.

The moral of the story is that inner beauty will always overshadow outer appearance. Interestingly, the Wikipedia article goes into a deeper analysis than I have here, postulating that this story is possibly a metaphor for Andersen’s own unhappy life.


As a child she was such an ugly duckling, but look at Sarah’s beauty and grace now.

Australian Wood Ducks with ducklings

Australian Wood Ducks with ducklings


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