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Piece of work

Posted by RRC on November 20, 2005

In Reply to: Piece of work posted by James Briggs 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.

Shakespeare's Hamlet: "What a piece of work is man!" Hamlet speaks (sarcastically) of how wonderful mankind is, then says "And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust? Man delights not me;..."