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Re: To make short work of

Posted by R. Berg on April 12, 2002

In Reply to: Re: To make short work of posted by TheFallen on April 12, 2002

: : anyone know the meaning and origin of this one? Thanks

: To make short (or light) work of something means to accomplish it quickly (or easily). As to origins, the phrase looks pretty literal to me, but others will no doubt come up with early quotations.

Here "short" means "brief." Beyond simply accomplishing something, "make short work of" implies disposing of it. The phrase often sneers a bit or has a twinkle in its eye. It might be used like this: "Once they see all those misspellings on your résumé, they'll make short work of your application for that editorial job." Or "I served a three-layer cake, and my guests made short work of it."

From the Oxford English Dictionary:
'To make good, short, sure' (etc.) 'work' ('of' or 'with' a person or thing): to do the business, or deal with the person or thing, well, shortly, surely, etc.; often with special implication, as 'to make short work of' or 'with', to destroy or put an end to quickly; to settle and dismiss peremptorily . . .
1592 SHAKS. 'Rom & Jul.' . . . Come with me, & we will make short worke.
1796 M. HENRY . . . Sometimes God makes quick work with sinners.
1826 DISRAELI . . . It is a very awful tale, sir, but I will make short work of it.
1885 LAW TIMES . . . A Lords Committee would probably make very short work of these precedents.