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]
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).
late 14c., "to tie with a cord," from line (n.). Meaning "to mark or mark off with lines" is from mid-15c. Sense of "arrange a line" is from 1640s, originally military; that of "to join a line" is by 1773. To line up is by 1864 as "form a good line, be in alignment;" 1889 as "form a line," in U.S. football; transitive sense "make into a line" is by 1902. Also see line-up. For line bees see bee-line. Related: Lined; lining.
a Middle English merger of Old English line "cable, rope; series, row, row of letters; rule, direction," and Old French ligne "guideline, cord, string; lineage, descent" (12c.), both from Latin linea "linen thread, string, plumb-line," also "a mark, bound, limit, goal; line of descent," short for linea restis "linen cord," and similar phrases, from fem. of lineus (adj.) "of linen," from linum "linen" (see linen).
The earliest sense in Middle English was "cord used by builders for taking measurements;" extended late 14c. to "a thread-like mark" (from sense "cord used by builders for making things level," mid-14c.), also "track, course, direction." Meaning "limit, boundary" (of a county, etc.) is from 1590s. The mathematical sense of "length without breadth" is from 1550s. From 1530s as "a crease of the face or palm of the hand." From 1580s as "the equator."
Sense of "things or people arranged in a straight line" is from 1550s. Now considered American English, where British English uses queue (n.), but the sense appears earliest in English writers. Sense of "chronologically continuous series of persons" (a line of kings, etc.) is from late 14c.
Meaning "one's occupation, branch of business" is from 1630s, according to OED probably from misunderstood KJV translation of II Corinthians x.16, "And not to boast in another mans line of things made ready to our hand," where line translates Greek kanon which probably meant "boundary, limit;" the phrase "in another man's line" being parenthetical.
Commercial meaning "class of goods in stock" is from 1930, so called from being goods received by the merchant on a line in the specific sense "order given to an agent" for particular goods (1834). Insurance underwriting sense is from 1899. Line of credit is from 1958.
Meaning "series of public conveyances" (coaches, later ships) is from 1786; meaning "continuous part of a railroad" is from 1825. Meaning "telegraph wire between stations" is from 1847 (later "telephone wire"). Meaning "cord bearing hooks used in fishing" is from c. 1300. Meaning "policy or set of policies of a political faction" is 1892, American English, from notion of a procession of followers; this is the sense in the political party line, and, deteriorated, it is the slang line that means "glib and plausible talk meant to deceive."
In British army, the Line (1802) is the regular, numbered troops, as distinguished from guards, auxiliaries, militia, etc. In the Navy (1704) it refers to the battle line (the sense in ship of the line, which is attested from 1706).
Dutch lijn, Old High German lina, German Leine, Old Norse lina "a cord, rope," are likewise from Latin. Spanish and Italian have the word in the learned form linea. In continental measurements, a subdivision of an inch (one-tenth or one-twelfth in England), attested in English from 1660s but never common. Also see lines.
To get a line on "acquire information about" is from 1903. To lay it on the line is from 1929 as "to pay money;" by 1954 as "speak plainly." End of the line "as far as one can go" is from 1948. One's line of work, meaning "pursuit, interest" is from 1957, earlier line of country (1861). Line-drawing is from 1891. A line-storm (1850) is a type supposed to happen in the 10 days or two weeks around the times the sun crosses the equator.
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]
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]