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[wurk] /wɜrk/
exertion or effort directed to produce or accomplish something; labor; toil.
productive or operative activity.
employment, as in some form of industry, especially as a means of earning one's livelihood:
to look for work.
one's place of employment:
Don't phone him at work.
something on which exertion or labor is expended; a task or undertaking:
The students finished their work in class.
materials, things, etc., on which one is working or is to work.
the result of exertion, labor, or activity; a deed or performance.
a product of exertion, labor, or activity:
musical works.
Often, works. an engineering structure, as a building or bridge.
a building, wall, trench, or the like, constructed or made as a means of fortification.
  1. (used with a singular or plural verb) a place or establishment for manufacturing (often used in combination):
  2. the working parts of a machine:
    the works of a watch.
  3. Theology. righteous deeds.
Physics. force times the distance through which it acts; specifically, the transference of energy equal to the product of the component of a force that acts in the direction of the motion of the point of application of the force and the distance through which the point of application moves.
the works, Informal.
  1. everything; all related items or matters:
    a hamburger with the works.
  2. harsh or cruel treatment:
    to give someone the works.
of, for, or concerning work:
work clothes.
shaped and planed; working.
verb (used without object), worked or (Archaic) wrought; working.
to do work; labor.
to be employed, especially as a means of earning one's livelihood:
He hasn't worked for six weeks.
to be in operation, as a machine:
The water should not be disconnected while the pump is working.
to act or operate effectively:
We all agree that this plan works.
to attain a specified condition, as by repeated movement:
The nails worked loose.
to have an effect or influence, as on a person or on the mind or feelings of a person.
to move in agitation, as the features under strong emotion.
to make way with effort or under stress:
The ship works to windward.
Nautical. to give slightly at the joints, as a vessel under strain at sea.
Machinery. to move improperly, as from defective fitting of parts or from wear.
to undergo treatment by labor in a given way:
This dough works slowly.
to ferment, as a liquid.
verb (used with object), worked or ( Archaic, except for 29, 31, 34 ) wrought; working.
to use or manage (an apparatus, contrivance, etc.): It is easy to work the camera in this mobile device.
She can work many power tools.
to bring about (any result) by or as by work or effort:
to work a change.
to manipulate or treat by labor:
to work butter.
to put into effective operation.
to operate (a mine, farm, etc.) for productive purposes:
to work a coal mine.
to carry on operations in (a district or region).
to make, fashion, or execute by work.
to achieve or win by work or effort:
to work one's passage.
to keep (a person, a horse, etc.) at work:
She works her employees hard.
to cause a strong emotion in:
to work a crowd into a frenzy.
to influence or persuade, especially insidiously:
to work other people to one's will.
Informal. to exploit (someone or something) to one's advantage:
See if you can work your uncle for a new car. He worked his charm in landing a new job.
to make or decorate by needlework or embroidery:
She worked a needlepoint cushion.
to cause fermentation in.
Verb phrases
work in/into,
  1. to bring or put in; add, merge, or blend:
    The tailor worked in the patch skillfully. Work the cream into the hands until it is completely absorbed.
  2. to arrange a time or employment for:
    The dentist was very busy, but said she would be able to work me in late in the afternoon. They worked him into the new operation.
work off,
  1. to lose or dispose of, as by exercise or labor:
    We decided to work off the effects of a heavy supper by walking for an hour.
  2. to pay or fulfill by working:
    He worked off his debt by doing odd jobs.
work on/upon, to exercise influence on; persuade; affect:
I'll work on her, and maybe she'll change her mind.
work out,
  1. to bring about by work, effort, or action.
  2. to solve, as a problem.
  3. to arrive at by or as by calculation.
  4. to pay (a debt) by working instead of paying money.
  5. to exhaust, as a mine.
  6. to issue in a result.
  7. to evolve; elaborate.
  8. to amount to (a total or specified figure); add up (to):
    The total works out to 176.
  9. to prove effective or successful:
    Their marriage just didn't work out.
  10. to practice, exercise, or train, especially in order to become proficient in an athletic sport:
    The boxers are working out at the gym tonight.
work over,
  1. to study or examine thoroughly:
    For my term paper I worked over 30 volumes of Roman history.
  2. Informal. to beat unsparingly, especially in order to obtain something or out of revenge:
    They threatened to work him over until he talked.
work through, to deal with successfully; come to terms with:
to work through one's feelings of guilt.
work up,
  1. to move or stir the feelings; excite.
  2. to prepare; elaborate:
    Work up some plans.
  3. to increase in efficiency or skill:
    He worked up his typing speed to 70 words a minute.
work up to, rise to a higher position; advance:
He worked up to the presidency.
at work,
  1. working, as at one's job:
    He's at work on a new novel.
  2. in action or operation:
    to see the machines at work.
gum up the works, Slang. to spoil something, as through blundering or stupidity:
The surprise party was all arranged, but her little brother gummed up the works and told her.
in the works, in preparation or being planned:
A musical version of the book is in the works.
make short work of, to finish or dispose of quickly:
We made short work of the chocolate layer cake.
out of work, unemployed; jobless:
Many people in the area were out of work.
shoot the works, Slang. to spend all one's resources:
Let's shoot the works and order the crêpes suzette.
work it, Informal.
  1. to arrange something:
    I'll try to work it so that we can all travel together.
  2. to show off one’s body or clothing to best effect, often through movement or posing: The models were working it on the runway.
    Work it on the dance floor, baby!
Origin of work
before 900; (noun) Middle English worke, Old English worc, replacing Middle English werk(e), Old English weorc, cognate with Old Frisian, Old Saxon werk, Old High German werah, werc (German Werk), Old Norse verk, Greek érgon; (v.) Middle English worken, derivative of the noun, replacing Middle English wyrchen, Old English wyrcean; cognate with German wirken, Old Norse verkja, Gothic waurkjan
Related forms
nonwork, noun
prework, verb, preworked or prewrought, preworking.
prework, noun, adjective
1. Work, drudgery, labor, toil refer to exertion of body or mind in performing or accomplishing something. Work is the general word and may apply to exertion that is either easy or hard: fun work; heavy work. Drudgery suggests continuous, dreary, and dispiriting work, especially of a menial or servile kind: the drudgery of household tasks. Labor particularly denotes hard manual work: labor on a farm, in a steel mill. Toil suggests wearying or exhausting labor: toil that breaks down the worker's health. 5. enterprise, project, job, responsibility. 2. industry, occupation, business. 3. job, trade, calling, vocation, profession. 7. product, achievement, feat. 16. toil, drudge. 28. operate, manipulate, handle. 29. accomplish, effect, produce, achieve. 34. finish, form, shape. 38. move.
1. play, rest. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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British Dictionary definitions for in the works


physical or mental effort directed towards doing or making something
paid employment at a job or a trade, occupation, or profession
a duty, task, or undertaking
something done, made, etc, as a result of effort or exertion: a work of art
materials or tasks on which to expend effort or exertion
another word for workmanship (sense 3)
the place, office, etc, where a person is employed
any piece of material that is undergoing a manufacturing operation or process; workpiece
  1. decoration or ornamentation, esp of a specified kind
  2. (in combination): wirework, woolwork
an engineering structure such as a bridge, building, etc
(physics) the transfer of energy expressed as the product of a force and the distance through which its point of application moves in the direction of the force Abbreviation W, w
a structure, wall, etc, built or used as part of a fortification system
at work
  1. at one's job or place of employment
  2. in action; operating
(informal) make short work of, to handle or dispose of very quickly
(modifier) of, relating to, or used for work: work clothes, a work permit
(intransitive) to exert effort in order to do, make, or perform something
(intransitive) to be employed
(transitive) to carry on operations, activity, etc, in (a place or area): that salesman works the southern region
(transitive) to cause to labour or toil: he works his men hard
to operate or cause to operate, esp properly or effectively: to work a lathe, that clock doesn't work
(transitive) to till or cultivate (land)
to handle or manipulate or be handled or manipulated: to work dough
to shape, form, or process or be shaped, formed, or processed: to work copper
to reach or cause to reach a specific condition, esp gradually: the rope worked loose
(transitive) (mainly US & Canadian) to solve (a mathematical problem)
(intransitive) to move in agitation: his face worked with anger
(transitive) often foll by up. to provoke or arouse: to work someone into a frenzy
(transitive) to effect or accomplish: to work one's revenge
to make (one's way) with effort: he worked his way through the crowd
(transitive) to make or decorate by hand in embroidery, tapestry, etc: she was working a sampler
(intransitive) (of a mechanism) to move in a loose or otherwise imperfect fashion
(intransitive) (of liquids) to ferment, as in brewing
(transitive) (informal) to manipulate or exploit to one's own advantage
(transitive) (slang) to cheat or swindle
Derived Forms
workless, adjective
worklessness, noun
Word Origin
Old English weorc (n), wircan, wyrcan (vb); related to Old High German wurchen, German wirken, Old Norse yrkja, Gothic waurkjan
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for in the works



Old English weorc, worc "something done, deed, action, proceeding, business, military fortification," from Proto-Germanic *werkan (cf. Old Saxon, Old Frisian, Dutch werk, Old Norse verk, Middle Dutch warc, Old High German werah, German Werk, Gothic gawaurki), from PIE root *werg- "to work" (see urge (v.)).

Work is less boring than amusing oneself. [Baudelaire, "Mon Coeur mis a nu," 1862]
In Old English, the noun also had the sense of "fornication." Workhouse in the sense of "place where the poor or petty criminals are lodged" first appeared 1650s. Works "industrial place" (usually with qualifying adj.) is attested from 1580s. Work ethic recorded from 1959.



a fusion of Old English wyrcan (past tense worhte, past participle geworht), from Proto-Germanic *wurkijanan; and Old English wircan (Mercian) "to work, operate, function," formed relatively late from Proto-Germanic noun *werkan (see work (n.)). Related: Worked; working. Working class is from 1789 as a noun, 1839 as an adjective.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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in the works in Science
The transfer of energy from one object to another, especially in order to make the second object move in a certain direction. Work is equal to the amount of force multiplied by the distance over which it is applied. If a force of 10 newtons, for example, is applied over a distance of 3 meters, the work is equal to 30 newtons per meter, or 30 joules. The unit for measuring work is the same as that for energy in any system of units, since work is simply a transfer of energy. Compare energy, power.

The American Heritage® Science Dictionary
Copyright © 2002. Published by Houghton Mifflin. All rights reserved.
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in the works in Culture

work definition

In physics, the product of a force applied, and the distance through which that force acts.

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition
Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
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Slang definitions & phrases for in the works

in the works

Related Terms

in the pipeline



  1. To go about a place begging, selling, stealing, etc; ply one's often-dishonest trade: She did not deserve charity. She worked the town (1851+)
  2. To exert one's charm, power, persuasiveness, etc, esp on an audience; manipulate: To watch Dick Engberg work the crowd and Al McGuire tossing peanuts to the spectators/ We watched him work the room a bit (1851+)

Related Terms

bullwork, dirty work, donkeywork, grunt work, nice work if you can get it, noodlework, scut

The Dictionary of American Slang, Fourth Edition by Barbara Ann Kipfer, PhD. and Robert L. Chapman, Ph.D.
Copyright (C) 2007 by HarperCollins Publishers.
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Idioms and Phrases with in the works

in the works

In preparation, under development. For example, The agent said there was a movie deal in the works, or He assured her that a follow-up campaign was in the works. [ Second half of 1900s ]
Also see: in the pipeline
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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