Back in high school, somehow, the word "rough" wove its way into our slang. But, through some bizarre glitch in linguistics, the word "rough" came to have two distinct meanings, which were polar opposites from each other.

Rough's original meaning in our slang, I believe, had a negative connotation. Synonyms: "bummer", "no good", "ouch", et cetera:

X: I got a 60 on the Algebra and Geometry test.
Y: That's rough, guy.

X: I don't have enough cash on me to buy lunch.
Y: Yo, that's rough, guy.

X: I hear he doesn't have a date to the formal.
Y: Yo guy, that's rough.

Of course, this negative connotation of "rough" existed outside of the sick, twisted world of our high school. Such responses might even make sense to an outside observer. (It wouldn't matter if X were male or female, by the way. If Y is a male, he'll say "guy" no matter what.)

But somehow, some God-only-knows way, "rough" came to have a positive connotation:

X: I got a 95 on the Algebra and Geometry test.
Y: That's rough, guy!

X: I just got back from lunch. I had some nice pizza.
Y: Yo, that's rough, guy!

X: I hear he's got two dates to the formal.
Y: Yo guy, that's rough!

Somehow we were smart enough to constantly utilize one word with two opposite meanings and avoid confusion. That's got to be a testament to our education. This last meaning makes no sense at all to the untrained mind. Case in point: I was up in New Hampshire, visiting the college I was going to go to, when I purchased an item, and, instinctively expecting sales tax, I asked the cashier how much it was.

X: There's no sales tax in New Hampshire.
Y: No sales tax? That's rough!
X: Rough? What are you talking about? That's good!
Y: Uh, yeah, see...where I went to high school, "rough" means "good".

Then he asked me where I went to high school, and I told him near Toronto, but I hastened to add that I grew up in the United Sates, lest he give me a "silly-Canadians-and-their-meaningless-slang" look.

So, what do you think, is this write-up rough?

1. (To look rough) Pale; sickly; poorly garbed; drunken.

2. (To go rough) Bad; fraught with danger, unsuited to criminal aims; unsatisfactory. "Things are goin' real rough since I hit the pavement (left prison). I ain't made a score (robbery) big enough to get me off the nut yet (to cover the costs of my criminal operations)."

- american underworld dictionary - 1950

Rough (?), a. [Compar. Rougher (?); superl. Roughest.] [OE. rou, rou, row, rugh, ruh, AS. rh; akin to LG. rug, D. rug, D. ruig, ruw, OHG. rh, G. rauh, rauch; cf. Lith. raukas wrinkle, rukti to wrinkle. &root; 18. Cf. Rug, n.]


Having inequalities, small ridges, or points, on the surface; not smooth or plain; as, a rough board; a rough stone; rough cloth.

  1. Not level; having a broken surface; uneven; -- said of a piece of land, or of a road.
    "Rough, uneven ways."
  2. Not polished; uncut; -- said of a gem; as, a rough diamond.
  3. Tossed in waves; boisterous; high; -- said of a sea or other piece of water.
    More unequal than the roughest sea.
    T. Burnet.
  4. Marked by coarseness; shaggy; ragged; disordered; -- said of dress, appearance, or the like; as, a rough coat.
    "A visage rough." Dryden.
    "Roughsatyrs." Milton.


Hence, figuratively, lacking refinement, gentleness, or polish.

  1. Not courteous or kind; harsh; rude; uncivil; as, a rough temper.
    A fiend, a fury, pitiless and rough.
    A surly boatman, rough as wayes or winds.
  2. Marked by severity or violence; harsh; hard; as, rough measures or actions.
    On the rough edge of battle.
    A quicker and rougher remedy.
    Kind words prevent a good deal of that perverseness which rough and imperious usage often produces.
  3. Loud and hoarse; offensive to the ear; harsh; grating; -- said of sound, voice, and the like; as, a rough tone; rough numbers.
  4. Austere; harsh to the taste; as, rough wine.
  5. Tempestuous; boisterous; stormy; as, rough weather; a rough day.
    He stayeth his rough wind.
    Isa. xxvii. 8.
    Time and the hour runs through the roughest day.
  6. Hastily or carelessly done; wanting finish; incomplete; as, a rough estimate; a rough draught.

Rough diamond, an uncut diamond; hence, colloquially, a person of intrinsic worth under a rude exterior. -- Rough and ready.

  1. Acting with offhand promptness and efficiency.
    "The rough and ready understanding."
  2. Produced offhand.
    "Some rough and ready theory."


© Webster 1913.

Rough, n.


Boisterous weather.




A rude fellow; a coarse bully; a rowdy.

In the rough, in an unwrought or rude condition; unpolished; as, a diamond or a sketch in the rough.

Contemplating the people in the rough.
Mrs. Browning.


© Webster 1913.

Rough, adv.

In a rough manner; rudely; roughly.

Sleeping rough on the trenches, and dying stubbornly in their boats.
Sir W. Scott.


© Webster 1913.

Rough, v. t.


To render rough; to roughen.


To break in, as a horse, especially for military purposes.



To cut or make in a hasty, rough manner; -- with out; as, to rough out a carving, a sketch.

Roughing rolls, rolls for reducing, in a rough manner, a bloom of iron to bars. -- To rough it, to endure hard conditions of living; to live without ordinary comforts.


© Webster 1913.

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