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ugly duckling

an unattractive or unpromising child who becomes a beautiful or much-admired adult.
Origin of ugly duckling
First recorded in 1880-85; after the bird in the story of the same name by Hans Christian Andersen Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for ugly duckling
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • I never dreamed of so much happiness when I was still the ugly duckling!

  • It was the ugly duckling after all who proved to be the swan of the flock.

    Mary Wollstonecraft Elizabeth Robins Pennell
  • Larry, just see what a collection of little boys your ugly duckling has made.

    The Cricket Marjorie Cooke
  • You see, at present you are the ugly duckling that for the first time meets a swan.

    The Quest Frederik van Eeden
  • The ugly duckling of the party, longcasted and deep in keel.

    Ulysses James Joyce
  • From 'The ugly duckling' she was led on to the story of the mermaid, from that to the enchanted swans.

    Demos George Gissing
  • Undeniably it was the "ugly duckling" of the American exhibit.

    Cyrus Hall McCormick

    Herbert Newton Casson
  • In the family nest he is the ugly duckling; in the world he is persecuted.

    The Modern Malady Cyril Bennett
British Dictionary definitions for ugly duckling

ugly duckling

a person or thing, initially ugly or unpromising, that changes into something beautiful or admirable
Word Origin
an allusion to The Ugly Duckling, a story by Hans Christian Andersen
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Idioms and Phrases with ugly duckling

ugly duckling

A homely or unpromising individual who grows into an attractive or talented person, as in She was the family ugly duckling but blossomed in her twenties. This term alludes to Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale about a cygnet hatched with ducklings that is despised for its clumsiness until it grows up into a beautiful swan. The tale was first translated into English in 1846, and the term was used figuratively by 1871.
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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