Yeoman’s Work – Meaning, Origin and Usage

Did someone tell you being a janitor is ‘Yeoman’s work?’ This post unpacks the meaning and origin of this expression.

Meaning

The expression ‘Yeoman’s work’ refers to tasks involving unskilled labor. For instance, you could consider janitorial duties as ‘Yeoman’s work’ since the janitor doesn’t attend university to learn their trade.

Typically, ‘Yeoman’s work’ refers to an honest job and a respectable way to earn a living. It means that a person contributes to society through their labor and efforts. ‘Yeoman’s work’ describes fastidious, loyal, regular service by an unskilled laborer or official.

Yeoman’s work refers to repetitive tasks that don’t require much training but add significant value to a person, organization, or community. Yeoman’s work is viewed by some as ‘essential’ and as unimportant by others.

Example Usage

“I can’t stand doing Yeoman’s work. Can’t you hire a gardener to cut the lawn? I don’t have the time to deal with that right now. I’m working on an important project.”

“Sure, cleaning the pool every week might be Yeoman’s work, but I find it relaxing. I stare into the water, and it calms me down as I skim the leaves and bugs from the surface.”

“Let’s hire a tea lady. I’m wasting time getting up from my desk to make a cup. We’ll be more productive if she can take care of the Yeoman’s work around the office.”

“There’s nothing dishonorable about Yeoman’s work. Unskilled labor is the backbone of all western economies. Without it, we would crumble.”

“Yeoman’s work is respectable, but most people hate to do it. Being a skilled laborer might earn you more money, but what value do you bring to society?”

“It’s strange how traders click buttons on screens and make millions every year. They add nothing to society, but those that complete Yeoman’s work is the worst paid and most valuable people.”

“I’m not doing the Yeoman’s work around here. You can hire someone else to do that. I have bigger things to do with my time.”

“Listen, there’s no way I attended college for five years and got my master’s to end up doing Yeoman’s work. I demand that you put my skills and time to good use.”

Origin

The expression ‘Yeoman’s work’ originates from mid-14th-century England. A ‘Yeoman’ is a person who owns and cultivates arable land. It also refers to servant ranks in English noble or royal households. Therefore, a Yeoman was a person with a low class in society, responsible for completing laborious tasks on behalf of their master.

The first appearance of the expression relating to the modern use of the phrase occurs in the legal case of ‘State v. Armann, 554, 1982 WL 6176’ held in an Ohio court on August 18th, 1982, where it appears as follows in the transcript of events.

“The appellant has done yeoman’s work in authoritatively arguing that warrantless electronic surveillance is a violation of a person’s Fourth Amendment rights.”

Phrases Similar to Yeoman’s Work

  • Yeoman’s job.
  • Yeoman’s task.
  • Unskilled labor.
  • Minimum wage.

Phrases Opposite to Yeoman’s Work

  • Skilled labor.
  • Specialized task.

What is the Correct Saying?

  • Yeoman’s work.

Ways People May Say Yeoman’s Work Incorrectly

The phrase ‘Yeoman’s work’ does not describe specialized tasks or skilled labor. Using it to describe a complex job requiring skills is incorrect. Using the expression to diminish someone’s value to society due to being unskilled is not the correct use of the phrase.

Acceptable Ways to Phrase Yeoman’s Work

You can use the expression ‘Yeoman’s work’ when discussing manual labor or unskilled tasks that don’t require specialized skills. Yeoman’s work is not deplorable or disrespected; it’s a respectable, honest job. You can use ‘Yeoman’s work’ in social and professional conversations.

Use it at work to describe the janitor’s tasks. These janitorial tasks might not require special skills, but without them, disease and filth spread through your premises. At home, you could say mowing the lawn is Yeoman’s work. If you don’t cut the grass, it upsets your neighbors and lowers your property value.

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