Hit Pay Dirt – Origin and Meaning

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Candace Osmond

Candace Osmond studied Advanced Writing & Editing Essentials at MHC. She’s been an International and USA TODAY Bestselling Author for over a decade. And she’s worked as an Editor for several mid-sized publications. Candace has a keen eye for content editing and a high degree of expertise in Fiction.

One of my obsessions is the reality TV show Gold Rush, so I’m pretty familiar with what pay dirt is. However, that’s the literal usage of the term, not the metaphorical one. So, let’s break things down, see what hit pay dirt can mean in other ways, and discover how you can use it in a sentence.

Hit Pay Dirt Meaning Broken Down

Hit Pay Dirt Origin Meaning

We use the idiom hit pay dirt when someone achieves a significant level of success or makes a valuable discovery, especially after a long period of effort or searching.

In gold mining, pay dirt is the layer of dirt that contains the most gold and is usually found near the layer of gravel, just before bedrock. But miners usually have to dig down several yards before they reach it.

A good example for me is AMS (Amazon) ads. OOOF! AMS ads are a headache to learn and take a lot of time to master. You have to babysit them daily, constantly tweak, constantly update, etc. At first, it feels like a lot of time and money for little payoff. But, once they catch on and your book starts generating sales, it feels like hitting pay dirt, for sure.

Is It Pay Dirt or Paydirt?

Pay Dirt vs Paydirt Ngram
Pay dirt and paydirt usage trend.

The term pay dirt, whether literal or metaphorical, is usually spelled as two separate words. So both are acceptable spelling, but the two-word version is the more common. It’s a common American expression that dates back to the mid-19th century, mostly used in the context of mining but has many ways to be used as an idiom.

Origin and Etymology of Hit Pay Dirt

The term pay dirt dates back to the popular Gold Rush era of the mid-19th century in the United States. The Alaskan Klondike was, and still remains, the producer of the majority of the world’s gold because the earth is so rich in the element. They just had to dig for a while to get to it.

Over the years, we began using the phrase in a figurative sense when we worked hard toward a goal and finally reached it.

Synonyms for Hit Pay Dirt

  • Strike gold
  • Hit the jackpot
  • Strike pay dirt 
  • Make a killing
  • Strike it rich
  • Find a gold mine

How to Use Hit Pay Dirt: Examples in a Sentence

Hit Pay Dirt Origin Meaning 1
  • After many years of trying, the scientist finally hit pay dirt with his ground-breaking research on extra-terrestrial life.
  • With the grand discovery of oil in their town limits, the tiny town hit pay dirt and created a whole new industry for themselves overnight.
  • The relentless detective hit pay dirt when he found the missing evidence to convict the murderer.
  • Our tech company hit pay dirt with its innovative new device, which quickly became a best seller.
  • I do a lot of yard-sale, but I hit pay dirt this summer when I stumbled upon a pristine vintage chair that’s worth thousands.

Keep Searching for Pay Dirt

So, never give up on your goals and dreams because if you work each day toward them, you’ll hit pay dirt eventually. You can use this phrase for just about any situation where someone is working toward an end and they finally meet it.