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make-work

[meyk-wurk]
noun
  1. work, usually of little importance, created to keep a person from being idle or unemployed.
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Origin of make-work

1935–40, Americanism; noun use of verb phrase make work
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Word Origin and History for make-work

"busy-work, activity of no value," 1913 (adj.); 1937 (n.), American English, from the verbal expression to make work (see make (v.) + work (n.)).

A big fire devoured a street; "It will make work," I heard my father say; a ship was lost at sea laden with silk, and leather, and cloth; "It will make work," said my father; a reservoir broke jail, and swept the heart of the town away. "It will make work," my mother said; so all human calamities were softened blessings to me; they made "work," and work made wages, and wages made bread and potatoes, and clothes for me. ["The Radical Review," Chicago, Sept. 15, 1883]
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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

make-work in Culture

make-work

Publicly provided employment that is designed primarily to relieve unemployment and only incidentally to accomplish important tasks. If private employers are hiring few people because of a business slump, the government can “make work” for people to do.

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The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.