What Does the Ugly Duckling Mean?

Ugly Duckling Meaning

Definition: A person who was initially unattractive but became beautiful later on.

Origin of Ugly Duckling

This expression comes from a classic children’s story written by Hans Christian Anderson. Anderson was a Danish author who wrote a story titled The Ugly Duckling in the year 1844.

In this story, there is a baby bird that is uglier than all the other ducklings. He is treated like an outcast. However, he grows up and learns he is actually a swan and is more beautiful than all the ducks.

Examples of Ugly Duckling

what is ugly ducklingIn this conversation, two high school students talk about their looks.

Lisa: Are you going to go to the school dance?

Jackie: I’m not sure. I know a lot of high-school students have grown up really looking forward to their last school dance. I never did, though.

Lisa: Really? Why not?

Jackie: I guess it’s because I used to be such an ugly duckling. I never expected anyone to ask me to the dance.

Lisa: First of all, you’re beautiful now! But that doesn’t matter. You don’t have to wait for someone else to ask you. You could go alone!

ugli ducklingIn the below dialogue, two friends discuss their dating history.

Seth: Thank you so much for giving me another chance after I fought with you. I honestly think I was just stressed about my personal life, and I took it out on you.

Jimmy: I understand. But what’s going on with you?

Seth: I really want to ask this girl out on a date, but I’m scared she’ll say no.

Jimmy: Why are you so worried about it?

Seth: When I was younger, I was a real ugly duckling. I feel like I’m not so bad looking anymore. But I still lack confidence.

More Examples

In this news excerpt, a father claims his baby is too ugly. He takes legal action against his wife for not telling him that she had plastic surgery.

  • But after DNA tests proved he was the ugly duckling’s biological dad, she fessed up to having done $100,000 worth of cosmetic surgeries before they met. –New York Post

The second news excerpt is about a woman who was not always attractive. This has shaped her perspective about her appearance.

  • Zadie’s status as a former ugly duckling has given her a provisional attitude toward her looks.  –New York Times


Ugly duckling is an expression for a person who was not physically good looking originally but became more attractive over time.