Work Cut Out for You – Meaning and Origin

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Candace Osmond

Candace Osmond studied Advanced Writing & Editing Essentials at MHC. She’s been an International and USA TODAY Bestselling Author for over a decade. And she’s worked as an Editor for several mid-sized publications. Candace has a keen eye for content editing and a high degree of expertise in Fiction.

To have your work cut out for you means you’re facing a challenging task that’s going to demand all your effort and then some. Think of those moments when you’re handed a mammoth project at work or when you first dive into the whirlwind of parenting.

Interestingly, this idiom has its roots in tailoring. Imagine a tailor being handed a piece of pre-cut cloth, ready to be stitched into a complex garment. It might appear the groundwork is done, but in reality, the intricate work has just begun.

Idioms, like the one we’re unraveling, are phrases where the sum of the words’ meanings doesn’t quite equal the entire expression’s essence. They like multi-purpose tools that make language richer and more vivid. You could say, “You have a lot of work to do,” or you could say, “You’ve got your work cut out for you.” It just sounds more colorful.

If you’ve ever wondered about the stories behind such vibrant phrases, you’re in the right place. Keep reading, and together, we’ll trace this idiom’s journey from the tailor’s table to our everyday conversations.

Work Cut Out for You Meaning Explained

Work Cut Out for You – Meaning and Origin

While the idiom does hint at preparation (your work is already cut out), don’t be fooled: it actually emphasizes the looming challenges ahead. It basically shows that, yes, a lot of the work is prepped and done for you, but you still have so much to do.

When I was pregnant the first time around, the doctor suspected it might be twins. I can’t tell you how many times I heard this saying after we told our friends and family. Thank goodness it just turned out to be one very large baby.

‘Have Your Work Cut Out for You’ Origin and Etymology

Work Cut Out For You Ngram
Work cut out for you usage trend.

Historically, the phrase comes from the tailoring world, where a garment’s pieces are cut out from a cloth before being assembled by hand in the 1700s. It’s not meant to make the job go faster or smoother; it’s so no piece gets missed.

Though having pieces ready might seem like half the work is done, any tailor will tell you that the real skill is in the sewing. So, the phrase eventually evolved to mean that while preparations may have been made, the challenging part is still to come.

Work Cut Out for You Synonyms

  • Big job ahead
  • Herculean task
  • Up against it
  • No easy feat
  • Daunting challenge

‘You’ve Got Your Work Cut Out for You’ Examples in Sentences

Work Cut Out for You – Meaning and Origin 1

  • With that looming deadline, you’ve really got your work cut out for you on that book.
  • Trying to convince the board won’t be easy; you have your work cut out for you.
  • Juggling a job, school, and a social life? You’ve got your work cut out for you!
  • She has her work cut out for her, raising triplets.
  • If you think learning French in a month is possible, you’ve got your work cut out for you.
  • The team has its work cut out for it if they want to make the playoffs.
  • With that difficult client, you certainly have your work cut out for you.
  • If you want to change careers at this stage in life, you’ve got your work cut out for you.
  • Trying to lose weight during the holidays? You have your work cut out for you.
  • Do you plan to write three books this Fall? You’ve got your work cut out for you, then.

Sewing It All Together

Hearing you’ve got your work cut out for you isn’t people commenting on your efficiency but rather on the mountainous task ahead. Arm yourself with this idiom the next time you need to acknowledge how hard a challenge will be—or if you want to sound particularly empathetic or foreboding. Want more idioms? There’s much more where this came from on our site!