ugly duckling


an unattractive or unpromising child who becomes a beautiful or much-admired adult.

Nearby words

  1. uglify,
  2. ugly,
  3. ugly american,
  4. ugly as sin,
  5. ugly customer,
  6. ugrian,
  7. ugric,
  8. ugsome,
  9. uh,
  10. uh huh

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 Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

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 for ugly duckling

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

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 Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.