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Thomas and the Boys

The Difference between "Hearty" and "Hardy"

As you can see, we have in front of us one large bowl of chili, one small cedar tree, and an exceedingly jolly man. We also have two words, hearty and hardy, to describe each; but we stand here confused, and no wonder.


The Oxford English Dictionary defines hearty fifteen ways and hardy five, and some definitions of one sound suspiciously like some definitions of the other. Merriam-Webster’s Concise Dictionary of English Usage describes hearty and hardy as “vaguely similar in meaning” in some senses, but “not interchangeable.” So when do we apply one to the bowl of chili, and the other to the little tree, and what about the friendly fella? Remember this, and it will help guide you through the maze: One who is both hearty and hardy can tell jokes in a snow cave.


Hearty once meant courageous and bold; over centuries that sense has drifted to hardy alone. But the line still blurs when we talk of physical prowess, because hearty can mean physically vigorous, strong, and healthy, and hardy can mean physically robust, strong, and sturdy. But hearty strength tends more to the lively, energetic kind, and hardy more to a strength that can endure great fatigue and hardship. Here’s a breakdown, drawing the line between the two:


HEARTY refers to: HARDY refers to:
warm, friendly, affectionate people bold, daring, courageous people
enthusiastic, vigorous, jovial people strong, robust, enduring people
genuine, sincere, devoted people audacious, foolhardy people
exuberant, forceful action anything that can survive extreme hardship or conditions
nourishing food  


In a thesis on the Hardy Boys, a masters candidate noted that the boys’ surname is not an accident, that Frank and Joe “always bounce back . . . because they are hardy boys, luckier and more clever than anyone around them.” They are also hearty, as the author describes them here:


While the Hardy boys can be boisterous, playful, and forceful when necessary [i.e., enthusiastic, jovial, forceful], those behaviors are also matched by honorable conduct [i.e., genuine, sincere, devoted].


In a sentence from Far from the Madding Crowd, Thomas Hardy uses hearty in its most popular sense:


She could see the brown and black heads of the young lads darting about right and left . . . whilst occasionally a shout and a peal of hearty laughter varied the stillness of the evening air.


But here, did Hardy mean for his laborers to be a happy-go-lucky bunch or men conditioned to hardship? Or both? Some dictionaries define hearty as blithe.


“At one end of the street stood from two to three hundred blithe and hearty labourers waiting upon Chance — all men of the stamp to whom labour suggests nothing worse than a wrestle with gravitation . . . .”


I am not second-guessing Hardy’s choice, only suggesting it was a difficult one: I agonize over every word I write. In the second sentence below, Hardy must have agonized again: hardy and merry rarely mix, but they can; hearty and merry are synonymous; and hardy and thriving can be nearly synonymous. The sentence and its purpose only underscore the similarity of the two words and why we have to be careful when we use them. The rest is up to the author:


Moreover, the Weatherbury folk were by no means uninteresting intrinsically. If reports spoke truly they were as hardy, merry, thriving, wicked a set as any in the whole county.


To avoid confusion, I would let hardy describe the bold and courageous, the tough survivors, and the cattle, plants, and furniture we leave outside in the winter. Save hearty to cover friendly or jovial or vigorous or sincere people--and hot soup.

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About Gary Kinder

Gary Kinder

WordRake founder Gary Kinder has taught over 1,000 writing programs for AMLAW 100 firms, Fortune 500 companies, and government agencies. He’s also a New York Times bestselling author. As a writing expert and coach, Gary was inspired to create WordRake when he noticed a pattern in writing errors that he thought he could address with technology.

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