hardscrabble

[hahrd-skrab-uh l]
adjective
  1. providing or yielding meagerly in return for much effort; demanding or unrewarding: the hardscrabble existence of mountainside farmers.

Origin of hardscrabble

An Americanism dating back to 1795–1805; hard + scrabble
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

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British Dictionary definitions for hardscrabble

hardscrabble

noun US informal
  1. (modifier) (of a place) difficult to make a living in; barren
  2. great effort made in the face of difficulties
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

Word Origin and History for hardscrabble
adj.

1804, U.S. colloquial, the name of an imaginary barren place "where a livelihood may be obtained only under great hardship and difficulty;" from hard + scrabble. First recorded in journals of Lewis and Clark. Perhaps the original notion is "vigorous effort made under great stress," though this sense is recorded slightly later (1812).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper