Etymology
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workhouse (n.)

Old English weorchus "workshop;" see work (n.) + house (n.). From 1650s in the sense of "place where the able-bodied poor or petty criminals are lodged and compelled to work."

updated on April 08, 2014

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Definitions of workhouse from WordNet

workhouse (n.)
a poorhouse where able-bodied poor are compelled to labor;
workhouse (n.)
a county jail that holds prisoners for periods up to 18 months;
From wordnet.princeton.edu, not affiliated with etymonline.