The term ugly duckling has been around since the mid-1800s, it is an idiom. An idiom is a phrase that is more than the sum of its parts, or in other words, has more of a meaning than the individual words used in the phrase. We will examine the meaning of the idiom ugly duckling, where it came from and some examples of its use in sentences.
An ugly duckling is someone who at first seems to be inept and unattractive but turns out to be beautiful, talented or spectacular in some other fashion. The idiom is taken from a children’s fairy tale written by Hans Christian Anderson in the mid-1800s also called The Ugly Duckling. In the story, a baby duckling that is uglier and clumsier than the other ducklings is shunned by his peers. At the end of the story, it is revealed that the ugly duckling has in fact grown into a beautiful swan. The tale plays upon the fact that cygnets or baby swans are a dull, gray color in their infancy but grow up to be beautiful, graceful, white swans. The term ugly duckling became a well-used idiom almost immediately upon the publication of the fairy tale from which it was derived.
FROM GEEK TO FLEEK People are sharing their ‘ugly duckling’ transformations online and you’ll be amazed how different they look (The Sun)
Perez signed on to the weight loss journey after years of feeling like the ugly duckling of her social group. (People Magazine)
Jan. 18 – “Now, Voyager” (1942): Quintessential Bette Davis soap/romance as she transforms from ugly duckling into swan and breaks from the tyranny of her controlling mother (Gladys Cooper). (The Times Herald-Record)