Posted by Smokey Stover on June 26, 2005
In Reply to: Piece of work posted by David FG on June 25, 2005
: : : : : The expression "(a person) is a 'piece of work'." What is implied by this expression? Insult, derogatory, or what?
: : : : The full phrase is "X is a nasty piece of work", which can imply a whole range of unpleasant qualities - dishonest, vicious, vindictive, treacherous, etc.
: : : It could be complimentary if said a certain way. "You are a piece of work." (Smile.)
: : Agreed. It can be an admiring remark, or a condemnation. What do they have in common? Both are responses to, and a recognition of, a person complicated enough to be unpredictable.
: Shakespeare uses it as a compliment: 'What a piece of work is man...' I can't remember the context, but I don't think he goes on to change it into an insult.
If you wish to be unmistakeably unflattering you can say, e.g., "He's quite a piece of work," or perhaps "He's a real piece of work." Or, if you like, "What a piece of work SHE is!" No admiration there! SS