From Rags To Riches

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Rags to riches

Meaning of Idiom 'From Rags to Riches'

Rags to riches is a way of describing a person who starts out in extreme poverty then becomes very wealthy. 1


"MacMillan seems like a typical Wall Street figure, but in reality, his is a rags to riches story."

"Alex went from rags to riches, selling, of all things, rags."

"Not many people believe in the Horatio Alger myth of rags to riches anymore."


Used since at least the 1880's.

Rags refer to the humble clothing that a poor person might wear, thus alluding to a state of poverty. The idiom is helped along by the alliteration. Although the precise origin of the idiom is unknown, the stories of the American writer Horatio Alger (1834-1899) are often associated with "rags to riches." Alger wrote of poor boys who, through their own great work ethic, became rich young men. 2

1. Ayto, John. Oxford Dictionary of English Idioms. Oxford: Oxford U, 2010.
2. Ammer, Christine. American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013.

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