Diamond in the Rough, a.k.a. WTF, Disney?

You’ve heard the phrase. “A diamond in the rough.”  Somebody who’s full of potential but has a coarse exterior. But what do you think the phrase means in a literal sense?

I’ll tell you what I thought. My entire life, I was under the impression it meant a diamond buried deep in the ground that needed to be unearthed, a gem hidden below the surface that could be brought to the fore.

Is that what you thought too? Because if so…

Diamond Landscape Cutaway

You’re goddamn wrong!

Yesterday, I found myself using the phrase, and suddenly my brain began to process it. I’d always assumed “the rough” was a place, kind of like in golf when your ball lands in “the rough.” But no!

Diamond in the Rough

“The rough” isn’t a place; it’s a state of being. The diamond is unpolished, or in professional gem-cutter parlance, IN THE ROUGH!!!

Because when you first see a diamond, you’re all meh about it. It’s just some hunk of rock. But then when you cut and polish it, kablam! You’re a freakin’ chamillionaire.

I was a bit shaken by this realization. I take misunderstanding of language incredibly seriously. After all, there’s reason my chosen profession is unemployed screenwriter. How could I be worthy of that noble mantle if i didn’t understand this basic concept?

But NO, I told myself. This is not your fault, Russ. There’s no reason why you, in this modern age, should be expected to know some niche hobbyist’s random colloquialisms just to understand a rare idiomatic expression!

And then it came to me. I realized the reason I’d spent my whole life misinformed, that year after year after year I’d been living a lie…

Disney’s Aladdin.

That’s right. Motherfuckin’ Aladdin.

I distinctly remember that’s where I first heard the phrase.

It’s that goddamn sand-cat cave. It opens its mouth and talks about how there’s a diamond in the rough. And then what’s inside that cave, deep in the depths of the earth? A bunch of fuckin’ diamonds! And others jewels and shit.

Little did they realize their film would feed an entire generation a heaping helping of misinformation. By far the sneakiest element of their dastardly plot was that the meaning of this misunderstood phrase ends up being the same. Whether the diamond needs uncovering or polishing doesn’t matter! The result? We’ve all been using the phrase correctly despite not understanding what it means!

Maybe it was their plan all along! A nihilistic linguist’s prank, insidiously manipulating our slumbering  subconscious. Of course kids are going to think that those diamonds buried in the sand are “in the rough.”

“Oh, what a great pun we have made,” the writers probably thought. “In the rough/in the rough. A ha ha la tee doo tee dahahoo.” Laughing their hoity-toity laughs.

Sand Cat Fuck You

This is an exposé, people. Disney needs to be held accountable for its actions. I want to how many people had this wrong. Because I brought it up to my girlfriend, and she had it wrong (and was very on board with my Disney theory). Then I brought it up to beloved Sam, reasonably ludicrous co-conspirator, and he also had it wrong!!!

Sam then explained that this was a wonderful example about the endless mutability of language, of the power of puns and creativity to hew new meaning out of the ever-less-solid rock of the collective lexicon.

But that’s a bunch of hogswallop. All I have to say is:

What the fuck, Disney? What the fuck?


Filed under Stories

17 responses to “Diamond in the Rough, a.k.a. WTF, Disney?

  1. Sam

    Wow. I’ve also been understanding this wrong my whole life, and it’s also Aladdin’s fault! But here’s my question–what if the Disney screenwriters ALSO had it wrong? Maybe this conspiracy goes even deeper! Who is the devious puppet master?

  2. I did not have this misconception, but I’m fairly certain I learned of this phrase before my (very late childhood) viewing of Aladdin.

    I somehow got a very vivid image of an uncut jewel sitting there looking like nothing more than a chunk of quartz in dull grey matrix, but I can’t say to what I should attribute this truthful notion.

  3. Whereas those of us one generation earlier grew up on James Bond in “Diamonds Are Forever”, in which he has to pass as a diamond expert, and in one scene sits there rattling on about the world’s most famous diamonds: “The ‘ad vat chat’, 175 carats rough, 160 carats cut”– so we knew full well all along that “in the rough” means “uncut”.

  4. I’ve been thinking about the Aladdin “diamond in the rough” thing a bit recently. Looking back at it, it seems a bit messed up – like, non-egalitarian. To say that Aladdin is the only one worthy of entering the cave despite being poor – does that mean that all the other poor people are just worthless? And what exactly makes Aladdin more pure of heart than other people? In the movie he lies, cheats, steals, takes back promises, attempts to trick women into loving him – not exactly a great report card. I suppose he does give those kids some bread though. Maybe Sand Cat-Cave just really likes bread?

    • Britt

      Jasmine couldn’t just go in either. It’s like the sword in the stone. Not classism, but a chosen person, who happens to need shining/ polishing to have his appearance match his potential.

  5. I thought I was the only one who so aggressively brood over idiomatic expressions

  6. sweetsound

    Aladdin had it rough, gotta eat to live, gotta steal to eat and all. He had it rougher than those around him, yet he still gave his food to the homeless kids – shining bright like a diamond. In the rough. I had an adult to explain it to me though so that probably helped.

  7. Emma

    Actually the movie has it right. It didn’t say anything about there being a diamond in the rough in the cave but that “only he who is worthy can enter, The Diamond in the Rough” hence Aladdin.

  8. Ana

    Hahahaha this type of things only happen in English.

    • Yara

      Wait, what?
      I was 8 when Aladdin came out.
      I never thought that it didn’t mean an unpolished diamond.
      I thought this was a purposeful misdirect- does it mean this? It actually means this! Aladdin is the diamond in the rough!
      I feel like I haven’t understood your essay… Are you being snarky, or like, was it not known Aladdin is the diamond in the rough.
      Or… Isn’t he??
      Now I’m wondering how many other people thought of the diamond being in a rough in place, instead of a rough form.
      And… If Disney intended by that.

  9. Jake from State Farm

    You are dumb! Aladdin was the diamond in the rough. He is the unpolished diamond you speak of. The cave was called the cave of wonder and the only one that can enter it is a the diamond in the rough. So the phrase means some one with potential that’s just need polished to be great. Which is the purpose of the entire movie. You are propbably an unemployed screen writer because you don’t understand scripts.

  10. Britt

    I had it wrong too! Thought it was like saying a needle in a haystack but a more glamorous example … & used it this way towards a district attorney. Genius. All thanks to my perception … all that’s to yes, ALLADIN!

  11. Detlef Bauer

    Damn it. The genie is out of the bottle and I need to seriously reassess. Based on this Diamond In The Rough revelation and the law of averages, I’ll have bastardised at least 50% of my regularly used catchphrases.

  12. RiOT76AD

    Oh, sure. Whatever you need to tell yourself to feel better at night. For the record, I watched Aladdin as well, and didn’t come to the same conclusion that you did.

    I mean, it’s Disney. I’m sure almost everyone has watched it. Do you think all of them were misinformed before they found out otherwise?

    I wish I could live in your world, I really do. I’d probably be a happier person as a result. Instead, I have to take responsibility for my own shortcomings and, most of the time, just want to watch the world burn.

  13. Aladdin sane

    No, you’re just slow. Everyone else has understood this idiom since we were children.

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