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Where did that phrase come from - Diamond in the rough
Stan St. Clair

I’d like for us to get our minds off everything going on for a bit and just look at some expressions we’ve all heard all our lives. After all, that is what this column was supposed to be about anyway.

When diamonds are mined they are dark and unshapely. Only with precision cutting and polishing by highly skilled artisans do they become the desirable gemstones that have hypnotized humanity. Even then, there are some stones which do not have good enough color and clarity to capture a top price.

This metaphoric expression refers to a person who has great, innate abilities but lacks the social graces and skills to fulfill his or her potential. A variation of the metaphor was first expressed as “rough diamond” in 1624 by John Fletcher in “A Wife for a Month.”

“She is very honest, and will be as hard to cut as a rough diamond.”

Though “diamond in the rough,” per se, has been used down through the centuries in a literal sense, it only began to be used figuratively in the late 19th century when it was meant to define human nature in “The Chautauquan,” Volume 5, No. 1, published by the Chautauqua Institution Literary and Scientific Circle, Meadville, Penn., October 1884, in “Editor’s Outlook” on page 51:

“Human nature is a diamond in the rough, and it is worth polishing and setting for its own sake.”

Then this citation was printed in The Saturday Evening Post, on Jan. 2, 1915 in a story by Harry Leon Wilson entitled “Ruggles of Red Gap.”

“It was really quite amazing, and I perceived for the first time that Cousin Egbert must be a diamond in the rough, as the well-known saying has it.”

If you would like to know the origin of a favorite expression, text the author at 931-212-3303 or email him at stan@stclair.net.