My COVID-19 Diary: A hard row to hoe

There’s an expression used to describe the experience of dealing with difficult circumstances, 

“It’s a hard row to hoe.” 

I’ve had a lifelong fascination with twisted idioms. Idioms get twisted as people repeat a common expression based upon what they heard, rather than seeing it written down.  

You will often hear the expression above conflated into: 

“ It was a hard ROAD  to hoe.” 

This is a hoe: 

This is a row bring “hoed”

This is a road.

 You  cannot actually hoe a road.   When I  imagine a  person scraping a hoe along an asphalt road, I feel a sharp pain somewhere in the very center of my skull, similar to the way you feel when someone scrapes their fingernails across a chalkboard.

To “hoe a row” is to turn over the soil around some kind of vegetation in order to rid it of weeds and help it grow.  A dictionary of idioms defines  the expression above as:

“If you say that someone has a hard row to hoe or a tough row to hoe, you mean that they are in a difficult situation and have many problems to deal with.”

One of the things that is inherent in this expression is that we’re all turning over the soil in a row. I’m doing it. You’re doing it.  This idiom  expresses that one of our “rows” , mine or yours, is more difficult to “hoe”  than the other.   

This is certainly true in life. Two people, essentially assigned the same task, may have a more difficult challenge than the other. When  we are “hoeing a row”, for example, there may be more rocks, roots, and other impediments in our row than there are in the row next to us. One plumber’s clogged pipe might be more  difficult to clear than the other’s. Two teachers, teaching the same subject to the same grade in the same class period in the schedule,  may have very different experiences.  

All idioms represent attempts  to bend language and create imagery describing a common life experience.   This idiom about a “hoe”  and a “row”  certainly resonates given the lives we’re leading  now. Throughout this pandemic, people have suffered physically, economically, and emotionally. Even if you’re among those who have escaped it’s most severe impacts, you have endured the less  serious experiences of wearing a mask everyday, limitations on your social interactions and restrictions on your normal activities during this worldwide pandemic.  So in a sense, we all “have a hard row to hoe” these days.  

The question I’m grappling with, maybe you as well,  “How is it different when we are all of us experiencing the identical challenge at the same time?” Does ours remain a “hard row to hoe?”

To be continued…

About dfgately

Middle School Principal Jericho, NY
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