Etymology
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work (n.)

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]

work (v.)

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).

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Definitions of work
1
work (v.)
exert oneself by doing mental or physical work for a purpose or out of necessity;
I will work hard to improve my grades
she worked hard for better living conditions for the poor
work (v.)
be employed;
My wife never worked
Do you want to work after the age of 60?
She works as a waitress to put herself through college
She never did any work because she inherited a lot of money
Is your husband working again?
Synonyms: do work
work (v.)
have an effect or outcome; often the one desired or expected;
The medicine works only if you take it with a lot of water
The voting process doesn't work as well as people thought
This method doesn't work
How does your idea work in practice?
Synonyms: act
work (v.)
perform as expected when applied;
This old radio doesn't work anymore
Synonyms: function / operate / go / run
work (v.)
shape, form, or improve a material;
work the metal
work stone into tools
Synonyms: work on / process
work (v.)
give a workout to;
My personal trainer works me hard
work one's muscles
Synonyms: exercise / work out
work (v.)
proceed along a path;
work one's way through the crowd
Synonyms: make
work (v.)
operate in a certain place, area, or specialty;
She works the night clubs
This artist works mostly in acrylics
The salesman works the Midwest
work (v.)
proceed towards a goal or along a path or through an activity;
work your way through every problem or task
She was working on her second martini when the guests arrived
Start from the bottom and work towards the top
work (v.)
move in an agitated manner;
His fingers worked with tension
work (v.)
cause to happen or to occur as a consequence;
I cannot work a miracle
Synonyms: bring / play / wreak / make for
work (v.)
cause to work;
he is working his servants hard
Synonyms: put to work
work (v.)
prepare for crops;
Synonyms: cultivate / crop
work (v.)
behave in a certain way when handled;
This dough does not work easily
The soft metal works well
work (v.)
have and exert influence or effect;
The artist's work influenced the young painter
She worked on her friends to support the political candidate
Synonyms: influence / act upon
work (v.)
operate in or through;
work (v.)
cause to operate or function;
This pilot works the controls
Can you work an electric drill?
work (v.)
provoke or excite;
The rock musician worked the crowd of young girls into a frenzy
work (v.)
gratify and charm, usually in order to influence;
the political candidate worked the crowds
work (v.)
make something, usually for a specific function;
Synonyms: shape / form / mold / mould / forge
work (v.)
move into or onto;
work the body onto the flatbed truck
the student worked a few jokes into his presentation
work the raisins into the dough
work (v.)
make uniform;
work the clay until it is soft
Synonyms: knead
work (v.)
use or manipulate to one's advantage;
he works his parents for sympathy
She knows how to work the system
Synonyms: exploit
work (v.)
find the solution to (a problem or question) or understand the meaning of;
He could not work the math problem
this unpleasant situation isn't going to work itself out
Synonyms: solve / work out / figure out / puzzle out / lick
work (v.)
cause to undergo fermentation;
The vintner worked the wine in big oak vats
Synonyms: ferment
work (v.)
go sour or spoil;
The wine worked
Synonyms: sour / turn / ferment
work (v.)
arrive at a certain condition through repeated motion;
The stitches of the hem worked loose after she wore the skirt many times
2
work (n.)
activity directed toward making or doing something;
she checked several points needing further work
work (n.)
a product produced or accomplished through the effort or activity or agency of a person or thing;
erosion is the work of wind or water over time
it is not regarded as one of his more memorable works
the work of an active imagination
the symphony was hailed as an ingenious work
he was indebted to the pioneering work of John Dewey
Synonyms: piece of work
work (n.)
the occupation for which you are paid;
a lot of people are out of work
Synonyms: employment
work (n.)
applying the mind to learning and understanding a subject (especially by reading);
mastering a second language requires a lot of work
Synonyms: study
work (n.)
(physics) a manifestation of energy; the transfer of energy from one physical system to another expressed as the product of a force and the distance through which it moves a body in the direction of that force;
work equals force times distance
work (n.)
a place where work is done;
he arrived at work early today
Synonyms: workplace
work (n.)
the total output of a writer or artist (or a substantial part of it);
Picasso's work can be divided into periods
Synonyms: oeuvre / body of work
From wordnet.princeton.edu