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Elbow grease

Posted by R. Berg on March 13, 2001

In Reply to: Elbow grease posted by Larry Holland 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).