Elbow grease

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Elbow grease is an idiom that is older than you may think. An idiom is  a word, group of words or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal meaning. We will look at the meaning of the term elbow grease, where it came from and some examples of its use in sentences.

Elbow grease means hard work, energetic physical labor, especially labor that involves vigorous rubbing or polishing. The term elbow grease is surprisingly old, it dates back at least to the 1600s. The oldest known example of its use is in Rehearsal Transpros’d, written by poet Andrew Marvell in 1672: “Two or three brawny Fellows in a Corner, with meer Ink and Elbow-grease, do more Harm than an Hundred systematical Divines with their sweaty Preaching.” Interestingly, other languages have similar idioms such as the French term l’huile de coude, which translates as “elbow grease” and the Danish term knofedt, which translates as “knuckle fat”.


The women didn’t waste time, but spent the next 72 hours, plus a lot of elbow grease, cleaning the space and moving in, in less than one week. (The Salisbury Independent)

Of course, actually opening your own scrappy, nonprofit artists cooperative gallery takes time, elbow grease, and an endless array of hats. (The Santa Maria Sun)

Bill de Blasio came into office hoping to be the most labor-friendly mayor the city had seen in years, but as he gears up for re-election his work to win over support from some unions may require serious elbow grease. (The New York Daily News)

Though the original dresser did not have much of a pedigree, with application of a bit of paint and some elbow grease, it has become something special. (The Baltimore Sun)