Entries linking to night-work
late Old English niht (West Saxon neaht, Anglian næht, neht) "the dark part of a day; the night as a unit of time; darkness," also "absence of spiritual illumination, moral darkness, ignorance," from Proto-Germanic *nahts (source also of Old Saxon and Old High German naht, Old Frisian and Dutch nacht, German Nacht, Old Norse natt, Gothic nahts).
The Germanic words are from PIE *nekwt- "night" (source also of Greek nyx "a night," Latin nox, Old Irish nochd, Sanskrit naktam "at night," Lithuanian naktis "night," Old Church Slavonic nosti, Russian noch', Welsh henoid "tonight"), according to Watkins, probably from a verbal root *neg- "to be dark, be night." For spelling with -gh- see fight. The vowel indicates that the modern English word derives from oblique cases (genitive nihte, dative niht).
The fact that the Aryans have a common name for night, but not for day (q.v.), is due to the fact that they reckoned by nights. [Weekley]
Thus in Old English combinations night was "the night before (a certain day or feast day);" compare German Weihnachten "Christmas," literally "holy night." In early times, the day was held to begin at sunset, so Old English monanniht "Monday night" was the night before Monday, or what we would call Sunday night; so saeterniht "Friday night." The Greeks, by contrast, counted their days by mornings.
To work nights preserves the Old English genitive of time. Night soil "excrement" (1770) is so called because it was removed (from cesspools, etc.) after dark. Night train is attested from 1838; night-school from 1520s; night-life "habitual nocturnal carousing" is attested from 1852.
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." This is 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-, a suffixed form of the root *werg- "to do."
The meaning "physical effort, exertion" is from c. 1200; that of "scholarly labor" or its productions is from c. 1200; the meaning "artistic labor" or its productions is from c. 1200. The sense of "labor as a measurable commodity" is from c. 1300. The 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]
updated on June 13, 2019