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What Does “To Go From Rags To Riches” Mean? When To Use It

What Does “To Go From Rags To Riches” Mean? When To Use It

You may have heard this expression in a situation of describing a person who has gone from living in a very precarious way and then moving up to living in wealth. This idiom has been around for some time and is exemplified in well-known stories like Genghis Khan and the Roman Emperor Diocletian who were born in poverty and reached comfortable positions of richness and power.

“To go from rags to riches” means to have gone from poverty to wealth, or from totally being unknown to high popularity. It is used to describe someone’s life as having overcome poorness and becoming very rich. Usually, it refers to someone reaching wealth and success through their own efforts.

Origin Of The Phrase

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Even though the exact origin of the phrase is not certain, there are many ancient stories describing characters who have gone from rags to riches; from deep poverty to great power and wealth.

The idiom “to go from rags to riches” has been used at least since the 1880s. The word ‘rags’

is referring to modest or humble clothing or pieces of it, worn by a poor person, therefore implying the state of poverty. The level of rhyme in the phrase helps it to be easily recalled.

Around the dated times of 1834-1899, the stories of American writer Horatio Alger are frequently related with “rags to riches”. The story depicts poor boys who from a lowly state, became wealthy young men exclusively through their hard work and ethics.

Musical References To The Phrase

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Another example is when R. de Toledano used it in Frontiers of Jazz when referring to Benny Goodman, the clarinetist, by stating, ” Goodman was the first real rags-to-riches success in the swing-jazz field”.

“Rags to riches” is also a song by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross dated from 1953. It is referencing a Russian tune called “Volga Melody” by Yuri Shcetkov, also known as “Samara My Lovely Town”. The most popular version of the song was recorded by Tony Bennett with Percy Faith and his orchestra. It remained in the Billboard chart in 1953 as number one for eight weeks, later becoming a gold record.

How People Use The Phrase

Aside from “goes from rags to riches”, the phrase is also used as “rises from rags to riches”, this last usage being even more straightforward. She was asked how she went from rags to riches and she responded, “I took advantage of my opportunities and took the plunge”. It is sometimes assumed that people who have risen from rags to riches can be scared that their comfortable lifestyle can be taken away from them at any moment. In addition, there is a reverse meaning where people say “riches to rags”, meaning that you have gone from being very well off to very poor by losing a lot of money. Someone can go from rags to riches and from riches to rags.

Example Of The Phrase In A Sentence

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We will now apply the idiom with the different usages in the following sentences.

Rags To Riches:

  1. He went from rags to riches in the blink of an eye.
  2. Andy went from rags to riches, casually, by selling rags.
  3. Not many people believe in the Horatio Alger myth of rags to riches any longer.
  4. Bryce’s story is a great example of going from rags to riches. He grew up with nothing, now he is a rich and famous baseball player.
  5. After his book became an international sensation, the former waiter went from rags to riches nearly overnight.
  6. His story is one of rags to riches, financially, physically, and emotionally.
  7. This is the story of Donald’s journey, from rags to riches to recovery.
  8. You can go from rags to riches and vice versa just like that.
  9. Many people describe it as a rags to riches to rags story.
  10. This is such an amazing story of rags to riches, and respect for oneself.
  11. Frank’s life goes on a rollercoaster; from rags to riches and back again.
  12. His story is one of those rags to riches. He had nothing in his early years of life, now he is the creator of an internationally well-known fashion brand.
  13. My cousin went from rags to riches within little time. He had a few hundred dollars when he started and now owns a big business.

Rags-To-Riches (Hyphenated When Used As A Modifier Before A Noun):

  1. Her life is like the cliché rags-to-riches story. She married some money, then made a lot more.
  2. MacMillan seems like a typical Wall Street figure, but in reality, this is a real rags-to-riches story.
  3. My aunt’s is a true rags-to-riches story. She grew up without a penny, but through enviable determination and courage, she founded her own company and is now living the life her and her family would have never even dreamed of.
  4. The movie is a rags-to-riches story of a beggar who goes on to find stardom and fortune with his unique singing voice.
  5. This relationship is not primarily a product of individual experience, effort, and luck despite the rags-to-riches myths circulating around popular imagination.
  6. His biography explains his rags-to-riches career and the role of money in the making and breaking of many friendships.
  7. Most people like to hear a real life rags-to-riches story. It gives us hope in the midst of such a tough world.
  8. Above all, it never fails to give us incredible stories – from rags-to-riches victories through to fables of triumph and hardship.
  9. It was such a rags-to-riches story which the sisters did in extremely limited circumstances.
  10. For every rags-to-riches story, there is another of the opposite.
  11. This excerpt truly revealed the autobiography of Mark’s rags-to-riches story.
  12. From the perspective of a rags-to-riches story, hers represents a fine example.
  13. If you think of the gold rush, you’ll think of the many rags-to-riches stories about men who took risks and became rich very quickly.

Riches To Rags:

  1. The country went from riches to rags in just one generation.
  2. She went from riches to rags because her team did not know how to manage her finances properly.
  3. The prince used to be quite rich, however, he lost it all after some bad decisions and moved from riches to rags. The important thing though, is that he was the happiest he’d ever been with his humble lifestyle.
  4. After all his efforts, the project slowly started plummeting, and Carl, with nothing left to try, and exhausting resources, went from riches to rags in a matter of a year.
  5. It is quite sad how his family went from riches to rags after the terrible accident that burned down his manufacturing plant.
  6. If not exactly a tale of riches to rags, the story of Elias’ fall from popularity certainly comes close.
  7. The story of the short-tempered, obstinate director is one of riches to rags.
  8. During story-telling with the third graders, the riches to rags story was really appealing to the kids.
  9. “It was from riches to rags and back to riches”, he said.
  10. The riches to rags tales has its funny, dark, complacent, and unsavoury moments.
  11. It relies heavily on chance, investing in stocks can become a riches to rags experience to many in an instant.
  12. Gabrielle went from riches to rags after her husband died, but continued to be loyal and served God.
  13. The princess went from riches to rags after she decided to escape with the love of her life.

English Idioms

Rags To Riches Celebrity Stories

The following stories are of celebrities who started from very low-income stages and went on to living the high life. They greatly succeeded after coming from nothing.

A famous actress slept in a homeless shelter, a few years before winning an Oscar. She was determined to enter the Hollywood scene. She began taking acting lessons which led her to stay in cheaper housing in order to afford the classes. The struggles made her stronger and prepared her to face any adversity thrown her way; she believed that she would succeed and she did. She now has a net worth of between US$70 and $80 million.

One of the biggest names in music, once started as a struggling artist trying to make it from the bottom. The star spent nights sleeping in underground train stations or on top of heating vents. He followed his passion for singing, writing, and playing songs in homeless shelters, and while out alone roaming the streets of London. He now sells out stadiums across the world and has a net worth of US$64 million.

A small-town girl from Ohio, whose family did not celebrate any birthdays, holidays, or family occasions, remembers her family not being able to pay telephone or electric bills. At only 11 years old, she managed to land a Broadway role and from there was catapulted to Hollywood, eventually doing many films. She became a lead role on a popular soap opera for many years. She has a net worth of US$150 million.


Sometimes, coming from the lowest beginnings gives you an impulse to thrive in life, by reaching wealth and success through your own sweat and tears. It is true that we often hear stories like these and think of them being just pure luck; in any case, it may be amusing to hear a rags-to-riches story and even more to be the main character in one. Once your passion and skills are put together to work, the right direction and effort are aligned; you are on the path to maximizing your opportunities and making it big!