What Does Knuckle Down Mean?

Knuckle Down Meaning

Definition: To work extremely hard on something.

People say this phrase as a piece of advice when someone has been procrastinating and needs to start seriously getting to work on their task.

Origin of Knuckle Down

This idiom first started appearing in writing during the mid-1700s, and it comes from the game of marbles. A game of marbles involves a person aiming his marble, a small ball, at his opponent’s marbles and trying to knock them out of gameplay.

definition of knuckling downIn order to do this, the players often put their knuckles down on the ground when they are ready to shoot their marble. Therefore, when a player puts his knuckles down, he is ready to start.

Examples of Knuckle Down

In this example conversation, a mother tells her daughter to start getting serious about planning the daughter’s wedding.

Daughter: I’m starting to feel stressed about the wedding.

Mother: Why is that?

Daughter: I haven’t done any planning yet, and it’s coming up in less than six months!

Mother: In that case, you need to knuckle down and plan the ceremony and reception.

Daughter: I know. I know.

Mother: I’m serious!

Daughter: I will! I’m going to start right now.

Mother: You better! The longer you wait, the more stressed you will be.

he knuckled downIn this example, two coworkers use the expression in a conversation about a promotion.

Dave: How’s your new position going? Is it a lot harder after your promotion?

Ben: It’s quite hard. I’m having a lot of trouble adjusting.

Dave: Maybe you should ask for some extra help. I bet they could get you an assistant.

Ben: No, they wouldn’t do that, not after laying so many people off. I just have to knuckle down and figure it out.

Dave: Well, try not to get too stressed. It’s just a job. Your health is more important than your job.

More Examples

In this excerpt, a speaker uses the idiom to describe how hard work is more important than luck when it comes to success.

  • Rooster just told you he’s kind of a big gambler and willing to take chances, but he’s learned that if he wants to be successful for the long run he’s just going to have to knuckle down. –Washington Post

In this example, the idiom describes how Americans are getting serious about starting to eat their Thanksgiving meal.

  • Thanksgiving is fast approaching, and Americans are preparing to knuckle down and stuff their faces, come what may. –Washington Post


The phrase knuckle down is a way to describe dedicating oneself to a task.