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Piece of work

Posted by Matt on November 19, 2005

I can't find any consensus on how the current usage of referring to a person as a 'piece of work' came to be. The origin is listed as Shakespear's Hamlet, but one forum user implied that it is always a compliment, and at least where I'm from (midwestern US), this is definitely NOT the case. I hear it used exclusively as a mild insult... 'yeah, he's a real piece of work,' 'what a piece of work,' etc. Any input?