to be in the trenches


Senior Member
What is the metaphorical meaning of the expression 'to be in the trenches'?
I found it in an interview with someone who talks about some sad and traumatic experiences but not connected with the war in any way. I know I could guess the meaning from the literal meaning but I'd rather get to know the real one.
  • sure!:
    -Is there anything positive about all that?
    -I think it’s made me appreciate life. It knocks you for six but if you choose the wisdom out of the wound then there is healing and there is light at the end of the tunnel but you don’t see it when you’re in the trenches,

    (she's talking about miscarriage)
    World War I was fought largely by troops that dug trenches for protection - until they charged the other side.

    Thus, to be "in the trenches" means to be involved, usually in something that's rigorous or difficult.
    Because of the WWI analogy, it also means to be involved in ugly, dirty, dangerous things. I always think of the trenches of that war as a sort of hell on earth. Yet, because the men were loyal soldiers, they manned their posts and fought on against the enemy. This experience also probably made the survivors "appreciate life" just like the woman in the interview.
    The best modern example of this term is that theme which is used in movie and television play plots. The theme is set up by using Cop One, perhaps a sergeant with 20 years of experience in domestic, juvenile or bogus crimes. Cop Two is hired right out of college, and having only theoretical or bookish knowledge about crime. The plot will answer the question whether Cop One's experience down in the trenches doing hands on police work is a better measure of worth than the guy with the sesquipedalian words.