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Is there an English word for "work which is repetitive (and often boring), but which must be done"?

  • 3
    I can think of some adjectives to describe such a job like mechanical, or monotonous but not a specific noun. – Yuri Apr 9 '16 at 8:25
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    drudgery, daily grind, graft, grunt work – user32657 Apr 9 '16 at 8:25
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    A friend often uses the noun tedium for this, but I hate to leave that as an answer, because it's not commonly used. (It does work, though, so I'll leave it as a comment.) – J.R. Apr 9 '16 at 10:07
  • @J.R. I was thinking tedious as well, but I don't think that's a noun – njzk2 Apr 9 '16 at 15:53
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    @njz2 - You're right, tedious isn't a noun. That's why I said tedium. :-) – J.R. Apr 9 '16 at 17:45
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Drudgery is routine or dull work like domestic drudgery. Donkey work is an informal (British) synonym.

"The donkey work had been done - the intricate brushing away of thousands of years of dust and soil was a task undertaken by the steady handed experts."

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    Interesting. I haven't heard donkey work over here in the US, but it seems to be a close synonym of grunt work. – J.R. Apr 9 '16 at 10:17
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There are several possibilities, depending on the occasion and nuance. My favorite basic one for a thing that is "a) repetitive, b) relatively boring, and c) has to be done" is chore.

Here is its definition in Macmillan Dictionary:

chore
an ordinary job that must be done regularly
You can go play after you’ve done your chores.

The word is generally used for household chores, but it does get used in a variety of contexts – like in this news story about a retiring judge:

At first, the job was a chore, but as he saw how his work could help people caught in terrible situations, it became a mission.

The word chore is also ideal for describing "repetitive" tasks. Chores are by nature things that need to be done on a regular basis, whether it's referring to chores on the farm, or chores around the house.

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To emphasise that the work is boring and without reward, consider one of:

Grunt work: work that is menial and thankless. During the summer, I earned money doing grunt work. I did all of the grunt work on the project, but my boss got all of the credit. The Free Dictionary

Grind: to do tedious, laborious, and sometimes menial work. The Free Dictionary

The latter has some nice idioms: back to the grind (going back to work after a break or vacation), daily grind (a tedious daily routine/job), grind away [at a job] (e.g. "he had to grind away for years at redecorating the old mansion"). You sometimes also see grind work and on your grind.

If you want to emphasise the ongoing physical difficulty of the work, and the exhaustion it can cause, toil (which can be used both as noun and verb) would be a good choice. The fact the work is mundane is often implied, but it isn't so explicit.

Toil: hard and continuous work; exhausting labor or effort. Dictionary.com

To emphasise that the work is continuous and unrelenting, consider working like a dog or (a common metaphor) being on the treadmill (which particularly hints at how one feels little sense of progress or having "got anywhere").

Work like a dog (UK also work like a Trojan): to work very hard. You can work like a ​dog and still not make ​ends ​meet. Cambridge Online

Treadmill: a monotonous routine or set of tasks. The Free Dictionary

  • "Drudgery" was the first phrase that came to mind, but all these others (except "working like a Trojan") also suggested themselves. "Grunt work" often, but not always, has a military association. – Silverfish Apr 9 '16 at 12:52

protected by Community Apr 9 '16 at 23:41

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