Suppose you see someone you set to doing something are doing it half-heartedly, without much if any enthusiasm. What could be the expressions to boost their energy/enthusiasm?

Searching for the English equivalent, I came across the expression "take the gloves off", which, in my opinion, could work for the job that doesn't need gloves to protect palms doing it.

Also I found the expression "pull up (one's) socks" which to me seems somewhat odd to use addressing to someone who's working barefooted and without socks on, say, standing in water doing their work.

In addition, I was thinking of "Roll up your shirt-sleeves!", but again, one may do their work naked from the waist up.

So, are there English expressions, idiomatic or slang, with the same meaning but without mentioning any pieces of clothing?

  • 3
    To take the gloves off is more about fighting - the gloves referred to are boxing gloves, not work gloves. It means something like "to stop fighting nicely and fight dirty instead", so it doesn't really mean "work harder" or "be more enthusiastic".
    – stangdon
    Commented Feb 23, 2018 at 16:30
  • If someone invests more energy after hearing a stock phrase, it will probably only be begrudgingly. Does this matter to you? If so, you probably want to come up with something inspirational that's actually related to the work being done.
    – jpmc26
    Commented Feb 24, 2018 at 0:34

3 Answers 3


First of all, there would be nothing wrong with using "Let's roll up our shirt sleeves," even if the workers were shirtless. That has become a figurative expression, not a literal one, and rarely are actual shirt sleeves rolled up when people say it. That said, the idiom seems to mean, "Let's get underway," more so that in means, "Let's work hard." I think hard work is implied, but this isn't really something you say to people who have already started working.

One idiomatic expression I can think of would be:

Let's put some elbow grease into it!

I like how American Heritage defines elbow grease (emphasis added):

elbow grease

Strenuous physical effort, as in You'll have to use some elbow grease to get the house painted in time. This term alludes to vigorous use of one's arm in cleaning, polishing, or the like. It soon was extended to any kind of hard work, and Anthony Trollope used it still more figuratively (Thackeray, 1874): "Forethought is the elbow-grease which a novelist ... requires."

  • 1
    This is the first thing that came to my mind too. Also, you could make some cheerleading-type exhortations, too, e.g. "Throw your heart into it!," "Let's win this one for the team!" Commented Feb 23, 2018 at 15:50
  • I've always wondered about the actual consistency and odor of "elbow grease".
    – Andrew
    Commented Feb 23, 2018 at 16:13
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    There is also: put one's shoulder to the wheel. :)
    – Lambie
    Commented Feb 23, 2018 at 16:53
  • Why is elbow grease always liberal? Is there no conservative elbow grease?
    – TimR
    Commented Feb 23, 2018 at 23:41
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    @Rompey - If you encountered it, there's a good chance it can be used that way. There's nothing wrong with that sentence, and you can find plenty more like it.
    – J.R.
    Commented Jun 20, 2018 at 10:09

Another idiom to spur people on is: to put one's shoulder to the wheel

Also, dig deep. For competitions, or even some hard task.


I personally like the expression to pull one's weight. It's very common to hear this one used at the workplace or in any situation that involves a bunch of people working together towards a common goal. The idea with this idiom is that when you say it to a person, what you're doing is that you're accusing them of not doing their share of work the way they're supposed to be doing it. I think it's close enough to what you're looking for. Here's an example:

Hey, buddy, I really need you to start pulling your weight. Otherwise, we'll never get this project done.

Another common one that I can think of would be to take the bull by the horns. I'm not sure how precisely close it is to what you're requesting, but it sure is a good way to encourage someone to do whatever they're doing with more enthusiasm and passion:

Hey, buddy, it's time to take the bull by the horns and get this damn thing over and done with!

But I think the expression to put some muscle into it would be just what the doctor ordered! By the dictionary I linked you to above, it's defined as an expression used to tell someone to make more effort to do something. The following example would be the typical way you would see it used in everyday conversational English:

Come on, man, put some muscle into it! We have to get all this mess cleaned up before Mom comes home or we're gonna be dead!

This one is really nothing more than a variation on the expression to put some elbow grease into it.

  • 1
    Said to the one who is being engaged in a collective work, yes, thanks. Good example too.
    – Victor B.
    Commented Feb 23, 2018 at 17:47

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