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[meyk-wurk] /ˈmeɪkˌwɜrk/
work, usually of little importance, created to keep a person from being idle or unemployed.
Origin of make-work
1935-40, Americanism; noun use of verb phrase make work Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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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]

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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make-work in Culture

make-work definition

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.

The American Heritage® 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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