"Outside of a dog, a book is probably man's best friend; inside of a dog, it's too dark to read."
- Groucho Marx
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The literal meaning of ironclad is quite obvious: it describes something that is clad in or protected with iron.
The figurative sense of the adjective ironclad describes something that is very rigid or inflexible. It is hard and fast, unlikely to be changed. Example: "Jennifer would have liked to leave her job but she had an ironclad contract that stated she would stay two years."
The noun is an early name for 19th century warships built of wood but protected by steel or iron plates. The practice of fortifying ships in this way was first seen in the 1850s. Ironclad seems to have come into preferred use first in the U.S. during the Civil War.
Details of the first Civil War duel of ironclad ships: http://www.usvetdsp.com/ironclad.htm
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