Posted by James Briggs on November 20, 2005
In Reply to: Piece of work posted by R. Berg on November 20, 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?
: It's an insult in other parts of the US, too. I've heard it on national TV. I don't know the origin.
In the UK this would be 'he's a nasty piece of work'. Reversely, 'that's a good piece of work' is a compliment. I don't think a simple 'piece of work' is common here.