Good enough for government work and close enough for government work are two versions of an idiom with an interesting evolution. An idiom is a word, group of words, or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Often using descriptive imagery or metaphors, common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often spoken or are considered informal or conversational. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase that has a literal meaning, even when the etymology or origin of the idiomatic expression is lost. An idiom is a metaphorical figure of speech, and it is understood that it is not a use of literal language. Figures of speech like an often-used metaphor have definitions and connotations that go beyond the literal meaning of the words. Mastery of the turn of phrase of an idiom, which may use slang words or other parts of speech, is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions and idiomatic language such as in a blue moon, spill the beans, let the cat out of the bag, silver lining, back to the drawing board, barking up the wrong tree, kick the bucket, hit the nail on the head, face the music, under the weather, piece of cake, when pigs fly, and raining cats and dogs, because they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. English phrases that are idioms should not be taken literally. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the phrasing of the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker; it is helpful to maintain a list of phrases, common expressions, and popular expressions to memorize that are used figuratively or idiomatically. We will examine the meaning of the idiom good enough for government work or close enough for government work, where it came from, and some examples of its idiomatic usage in sentences.
Good enough for government work and close enough for government work are both American idioms to describe something that is merely adequate, something that meets the bare minimum standards, something that is subpar. The expressions good enough for government work and close enough for government work have a surprising origin. Around the turn of the century, the terms were used to mean something of high quality or something that was the best of the best. This definition of good enough for government work and close enough for government work may have persisted through World War II, though some believe this is the time when the meaning of the expressions began to change. By the 1960s and 1970s, good enough for government work and close enough for government work came to mean the exact opposite of their original definitions.
On Thursday’s first re-inspection, the fly guy count was down to 10, which was still not good enough for government work or inspection. (The Miami Herald)
“The onus is now on Iraqi political elites to put personal agendas on hold and expedite the formation of a good-enough-for-government-work cabinet, since doing so may be the one thing that can prevent Iraq from becoming a war zone again,” Fontenrose said. (The Washington Post)
But as the old cliche goes, it was close enough for government work — particularly with a leftist Legislature. (The Los Angeles Times)
Although the TASER didn’t work much like Swift’s physics-defying weapon, it was close enough for government work (or at least for a former government contractor’s personal project). (Forbes Magazine)