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Time spent in a prison, often implied to be as unpleasant as possible. When we catch these criminals, they're going to be doing at least 20 years of hard time. Solitary confinement is the hardest time you can do.
1. Also, hard times. A period of difficulty or hardship, especially financial hardship. For example, Since Mom died, Christmas has been a hard time for Dad, or It's been hard times for both of them since they split up. It is also put as have a hard time, as in I'm having a hard time finishing this book. Charles Dickens used Hard Times as the title of a novel about poverty (1854). A more recent version is have a time of it, which despite its ambiguity (not specifying either "good" or "bad") nearly always means "experiencing difficulty"; for example, We had quite a time of it in that hurricane. [Late 1300s]
2. give someone a hard time. Annoy or harass someone. For example, Don't let him give you a hard time; he's often late himself. [Colloquial; early 1900s]
1. n. a difficult experience. I had a hard time at the doctor’s office.
2. n. a prison sentence. (Underworld.) How much hard time does he have behind him?