The Meaning of Old Habits Die Hard: What It Is and How To Use It

This guide will give you all of the info you need on the phrase old habits die hard, including its meaning, origin, example sentences and more!

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What does the idiom old habits die hard mean?

The figure of speech old habits die hard means that it is difficult for one to stop doing the things that they have been doing for a long time or have a proclivity for, according to Merriam-Webster English Dictionary. This can either refer to an ingrained physical habit, like smoking, which is tough for many people to quit, or a more figurative habit, like a longstanding relationship in which neither party is happy, but neither can seem to leave.

This proverb states that it is difficult for one to change their behavior, attitude, or ideology according to Grammarist. A habit is a self-reinforcing behavior that has built up over time that now, the person with the habit does not even give it a second thought, and simply performs it. Some may even use this phrase as an excuse to keep repeating destructive behaviors.

Some have adjusted the phrase into “old habits hardly die,” which means that not only do they usually resist death, they usually overcome it. This phrase could be used in response to the idiom old habits die hard, or could be used independently of it. Many may use this phrase as a response to insist that the habit one suggests they stop is an impossible request!

What is the origin of the phrase old habits die hard?

The exact origin of the phrase is unknown. Some accredit it to Benjamin Franklin, who penned the phrase in an article in 1758, which is the first known citation. Others, according to BookBrowse, say the expression has traced back to 1450. Writing Explained states that some even credit it to Jeremy Belknap, who was an historian and congregational church minister, according to the New Hampshire Division of HIstorical Resources. Whatever the initial source truly is, it is widely accepted that the proverb has grown in popularity since the mid-20th century.

Etymonline states that the word habit stems from the Old French abit, referring to ecclesiastical clothing or conduct. This meaning also makes its way into the modern vernacular, as a nun’s headpiece is still called a habit. Using the word habit to mean someone’s typical mode of action or practice has occurred since the early 14th century.

They also state that the word die-hard or diehard as a noun has been used since 1844, in reference to the 57th Regiment of Foot from the British Army. This fleet literally resisted death, struggling until the very end, and “dying hard.” Its use as an adjective has been present since 1871. These chronology shows that the word itself may even stem from the proverb old habits die hard.

The trending adage old habits die hard has also made its way into popular culture. It can be seen in quotes all over social media, but is most notably seen in the Mick Jagger and Dave Stewart song of the same name. They wrote this song for the film Alfie and, according to SongFacts, it reflects what was happening in Mick’s life at the time. The lyrics follow a man who is trying to let go of an old flame– in this, the person he is singing to is the “old habit” that is dying hard. There are two versions of the song, one with just Mick Jagger, and one in which he is joined by Sheryl Crow. The song won a Golden Globe for Best Original Song in 2005.

What are synonyms for old habits die hard?

There are a few other proverbs with similar meanings to old habits die hard, according to the thesaurus Synonyms:

  • You can’t teach an old dog new tricks
  • Habits are easy to make and hard to break
  • Things are set in stone

How can old habits die hard be used in a sentence?

Old habits die hard can either be used to describe something they have been doing for a long time that is difficult to stop, or to make an excuse as to why they have not stopped their habit. In this first example, Casey has switched which wrist he wears his watch on due to an injury, but he keeps glancing at his empty wrist. A friend, Corrine, notices this.

Corinne: Why do you keep looking at your left wrist when your watch is on the right one?

Casey: I used to wear it on the left, but I hurt it playing tennis. I’m just so used to looking at my left wrist. Old habits die hard!

Corinne: That they do!

Here, Casey uses old habits die hard to describe why he keeps looking at his empty wrist. In this next example, Melissa is home for Thanksgiving. Her father, Mark, told her over the summer that he was quitting smoking. Melissa enters.

Melissa: Why does it smell like smoke in here?

Mark: I don’t know.

Melissa: Dad. It smells like cigarettes. Have you been smoking?

Mark: No.

Melissa opens a drawer full of cigarette packs.

Mark: Old habits die hard!

Melissa: That’s no excuse! You told me you would quit!

Here, Mark uses the idiom old habits die hard as an excuse as to why he is still smoking. Melissa, frustrated, insists he cannot use the proverb as an excuse.

Overall, the definition of old habits die hard means is that it is difficult for one to stop doing something that they have been doing for a long time, even if it is destructive. This phrase can also be used as an excuse for why someone has not stopped performing said habit. Some may be vowing to change for the better on New Year’s Eve, but even small changes are difficult to make– old habits die hard!