A big fire devoured a street; "It will make work," I heard my father say; a ship was lost at sea laden with silk, and leather, and cloth; "It will make work," said my father; a reservoir broke jail, and swept the heart of the town away. "It will make work," my mother said; so all human calamities were softened blessings to me; they made "work," and work made wages, and wages made bread and potatoes, and clothes for me. ["The Radical Review," Chicago, Sept. 15, 1883]
Old English weorc, worc "something done, discrete act performed by someone, action (whether voluntary or required), proceeding, business; that which is made or manufactured, products of labor," also "physical labor, toil; skilled trade, craft, or occupation; opportunity of expending labor in some useful or remunerative way;" also "military fortification," from Proto-Germanic *werka- "work" (source also of Old Saxon, Old Frisian, Dutch werk, Old Norse verk, Middle Dutch warc, Old High German werah, German Werk, Gothic gawaurki), from PIE *werg-o-, suffixed form of root *werg- "to do."
Meaning "physical effort, exertion" is from c. 1200; meaning "scholarly labor" or its productions is from c. 1200; meaning "artistic labor" or its productions is from c. 1200. Meaning "labor as a measurable commodity" is from c. 1300. Meaning "embroidery, stitchery, needlepoint" is from late 14c.
Work of art attested by 1774 as "artistic creation," earlier (1728) "artifice, production of humans (as opposed to nature)." Work ethic recorded from 1959. To be out of work "unemployed" is from 1590s. To make clean work of is from c. 1300; to make short work of is from 1640s.
Proverbial expression many hands make light work is from c. 1300. To have (one's) work cut out for one is from 1610s; to have it prepared and prescribed, hence, to have all one can handle. Work in progress is from 1930 in a general sense, earlier as a specific term in accountancy and parliamentary procedure.
Work is less boring than amusing oneself. [Baudelaire, "Mon Coeur mis a nu," 1862]
Work and play are words used to describe the same thing under differing conditions. [attributed to Mark Twain]
Old English macian "to give being to, give form or character to, bring into existence; construct, do, be the author of, produce; prepare, arrange, cause; behave, fare, transform," from West Germanic *makōjanan "to fashion, fit" (source also of Old Saxon makon, Old Frisian makia "to build, make," Middle Dutch and Dutch maken, Old High German mahhon "to construct, make," German machen "to make"), from PIE root *mag- "to knead, fashion, fit." If so, sense evolution perhaps is via prehistoric houses built of mud. It gradually replaced the main Old English word, gewyrcan (see work (v.)).
Meaning "to arrive at" (a place), first attested 1620s, originally was nautical. Formerly used in many places where specific verbs now are used, such as to make Latin (c. 1500) "to write Latin compositions." This broader usage survives in some phrases, such as make water "to urinate" (c. 1400), make a book "arrange a series of bets" (1828), make hay "to turn over mown grass to expose it to sun." Make the grade is 1912, perhaps from the notion of railway engines going up an incline.
Read the valuable suggestions in Dr. C.V. Mosby's book — be prepared to surmount obstacles before you encounter them — equipped with the power to "make the grade" in life's climb. [advertisement for "Making the Grade," December 1916]
But the phrase also was in use in a schoolwork context at the time.
To make friends is from late 14c.; to make good "make right" is from early 15c. To make do "manage with what is available" is attested by 1867; to make for "direct one's course to, proceed toward" is from 1580s, but "Not frequent before the 19th c." [OED]. To make of "think, judge" is from c. 1300. To make off "run away, depart suddenly" is from 1709; to make off with "run away with (something) in one's possession" is by 1820. To make way is from c. 1200 as "cut a path," early 14c. as "proceed, go."
Make time "go fast" is 1849; make tracks in this sense is from 1834. To make a federal case out of (something) was popularized in 1959 movie "Anatomy of a Murder;" to make an offer (one) can't refuse is from Mario Puzo's 1969 novel "The Godfather." To make (one's) day is by 1909; menacing make my day is from 1971, popularized by Clint Eastwood in film "Sudden Impact" (1983). Related: Made; making.
"match, mate, companion" (now archaic or dialectal), from Old English gemaca "mate, equal; one of a pair, comrade; consort, husband, wife," from Proto-Germanic *gamakon- (source also of Old Saxon gimaco, Old High German gimahho, Old Norse maki), related to Old English gemæcc "well-matched, suitable," macian "to make" (see make (v.)). Meaning "manner in which something is made, form, shape, design, construction" is from c. 1300. Slang phrase on the make "intent on profit or advancement" is from 1869.
a fusion of Old English wyrcan (past tense worhte, past participle geworht) "prepare, perform, do, make, construct, produce; strive after" (from Proto-Germanic *wurkjanan); and Old English wircan (Mercian) "to operate, function, set in motion," a secondary verb formed relatively late from Proto-Germanic noun *werkan (see work (n.)).
Sense of "perform physical labor" was in Old English, as was sense "ply one's trade" and "exert creative power, be a creator." Transitive sense "manipulate (physical substances) into a desired state or form" was in Old English. Meaning "have the expected or desired effect" is from late 14c. In Middle English also "perform sexually" (mid-13c.). Related: Worked (15c.); wrought; working.
To work in "insert, introduce or intermix," as one material with another, is by 1670s; hence the figurative sense "cause to enter or penetrate by repeated efforts." To work up (transitive) "bring into some state or condition" is by 1590s of material things, 1690s of immaterial things; hence "bring by labor or special effort to a higher state or condition" (1660s). The meaning "excite, stir up, raise, rouse" is from c. 1600. To work over "beat up, thrash" is from 1927. To work against "attempt to subvert" is from late 14c.
To work out "bring about or procure (a result) by continued labor or effort" is by 1530s. As "bring to a fuller or finished state, elaborate, develop," by 1821. Meaning "to solve, calculate the solution to" a problem or question is by 1848. Intransitive sense "make its way out" is from c. 1600; the sense of "succeed" is attested by 1909. Sense of "exhaust (a mine, etc.) by working it" is from 1540s. The pugilistic sense of "box for practice (rather than in a contest) is by 1927, hence the general sense of "practice, rehearse" (1929) and that of "take exercise" (by 1948).
How to keep little children busy while not reciting, is the despair of many a teacher. Miss Goodyear solves the problem by introducing a modification of the kindergarten occupations, which she denominates "busy work." Tablets, rings, slats, weaving, and the like, drawing, writing, all are laid under contribution. In this way the interest of the little folk is aroused and directed. ["Annual Report of the State Superintendent of Education, of the State of South Carolina," 1886]
"pretense, false or fanciful representation," 1811, from the verbal phrase make believe, which was used in children's talk by 1773 for "pretend;" see make (v.) + believe. As an adjective, "unreal, sham, pretended," by 1824. The noun form make-belief (1833) was "Substituted by some writers for MAKE-BELIEVE; the formation of the latter, being misunderstood, was imagined to be incorrect" [OED].
Let's-pretend (n.) in the same sense is attested by 1904 (the verbal phrase is from 1848). To make believe (v.) in the sense "cause to believe" is from late 14c.