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by the sweat of one's brow

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By hard work, as in The only way he'll succeed is by the sweat of his brow. This figurative usage appears in the Bible (Genesis 31:9), where Adam's punishment for eating fruit in Eden is “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread”—that is, he will have to work for his bread, or living. [c. 1600]

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The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.

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