phrases, sayings, idioms and expressions at

Phrases, Sayings and Idioms Home > Discussion Forum

Re: Elbow grease

Posted by ESC on March 14, 2001

In Reply to: Re: Elbow grease posted by R. Berg on March 13, 2001

: : Hi folks,

: : When I was a kid, my dad used to encourage me to work a little harder by saying..."use a little elbow grease." I've tried to find the derivation of that phrase, with no luck.

: : Any help greatly appreciated.

: : H

: The phrase is very old. From the Oxford English Dictionary:

: Elbow-grease (humorous). Vigorous rubbing, proverbially referred to as the best unguent for polishing furniture. Hence, allusively, energetic labour of any kind.

: The dictionary gives quotations in chronological order from Marvell ("Two or three brawny Fellows in a Corner, with meer Ink and Elbow-grease, do more Harm than an Hundred systematical Divines with their sweaty Preaching," 1672) to Thackeray ("Forethought is the elbow-grease which a novelist,-or poet, or dramatist,-requires," 1879).

ELBOW GREASE -- "Elbow grease has been a term of 'hard manual labor' since before 1639, 'B.E.'s Dictionary of Canting Crew' (ca. 1698) calling it 'A derisory term for Sweat.' The old joke that 'elbow grease' is the best brand of furniture poish was probably common centuries ago, too, in some form. The phrase was known in France from early times as well (buile de bras)." From the "Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins" by Robert Hendrickson (Facts on File, New York, 1997).