Have one’s work cut out

Have one’s work cut out is an idiom with an origin that goes back to the 1600s. 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, 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 have definitions and connotations that go beyond the literal meaning of the words. Mastery of the turn of phrase of an idiom or other parts of speech is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions that native speakers understand such as in a blue moon, spill the beans, let the cat out of the bag, chin up, eye to eye, barking up the wrong tree, hit the nail on the head, kick the bucket, under the weather, piece of cake, when pigs fly, and raining cats and dogs, as they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. 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. We will examine the meaning of the idiom have one’s work cut out, where it came from, and some examples of its use in sentences.

To have one’s work cut out means one has a difficult task to accomplish, that one is faced with a lot of hard work, that one has difficulties to surmount in order to be successful. The idiom to have one’s work cut out dates back to the 1600s, when to have all one’s work cut out meant that one was prepared to tackle a project. Later, the term came to mean that someone had assigned you an arduous task. By the 1800s, to have one’s work cut out came into its current meaning, that one has a difficult task ahead of him. The image is of a tailor or shoemaker having his fabric or leather cut out in preparation for making a garment or shoe. Related phrases are has one’s work cut out, had one’s work cut out, having one’s work cut out.


With the average student debt now exceeding $35,000, you’ll have your work cut out for you just getting that paid off. (Forbes Magazine)

If you want to pump up your calves to Edelman-esque levels, you have your work cut out for you. (Men’s Health Magazine)

The depth forward and cousin of former coach Joel Quenneville, acquired from the Devils for John Hayden at the draft, already had his work cut out to make the Hawks’ ultra-competitive forward roster. (The Chicago Sun Times)

But coach Jacquelyn Frawley has her work cut out for her due to graduation losses. (The Journal News)

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