JL in New York wrote recently with this observation:
Last week's Economist included an article ("Executive Pay: Money for Nothing?", in the Britain section) that begins:

Hard work builds character, and should be rewarded. But many Britons believe the link between graft and gain has broken down.

The word that struck me was "graft" -- in my AmE usage, it can only mean "corruption", not "hard work".  (Other than horticulturally.)

The link between graft (AmE) and gain has, sadly, not broken down, of course.

My first thought was that certainly AmE has the 'hard work' sense of graft, since the phrase hard graft is known there. But is it the case that AmE and BrE are divided by graft

The corruption sense of graft is listed in the OED as 'colloq. (orig. U.S.)'. Their first published citation for it is from an 1865 New York-based police gazette. West's Encyclopedia of American Law defines it as:
A colloquial term referring to the unlawful acquisition of public money through questionable and improper transactions with public officials.
Graft is the personal gain or advantage earned by an individual at the expense of others as a result of the exploitation of the singular status of, or an influential relationship with, another who has a position of public trust or confidence. The advantage or gain is accrued without any exchange of legitimate compensatory services.
Behavior that leads to graft includes Bribery and dishonest dealings in the performance of public or official acts. Graft usually implies the existence of theft, corruption, Fraud, and the lack of integrity that is expected in any transaction involving a public official.
This sense of graft may or may not come from the 'work' sense of graft; the OED lists them separately and doesn't have an etymology it trusts for the 'work' sense either. The 'work' sense is also listed as 'slang' and the first citation is in the phrase hard graft in 1853. An 1890 Glossary of Words of County Glouster lists it as meaning 'work', so perhaps it has dialectal origins there. Neither of these senses of the word, then, seems to be terribly old, but because they're colloquial and dialectal, they'll have unwritten histories going back further.

So, how well-known are the senses in AmE and BrE? A quick look at our (chiefly AmE) go-to corpora, the Corpus of Contemporary American English and the British National Corpus (via Mark Davies' interface) can give some indication.  First I looked at how much of the use of the noun graft in either corpus consisted of the phrase hard graft. For AmE it was only 6 of 640 (less than 1%), for BrE 28/145 (19%).

Taking a sample of 100 sentences containing a noun graft from each corpus, the use of particular senses breaks down as:

SenseBNC (BrE)COCA (AmE)
proper name06

So, the first thing to notice is that the 'work' meaning is indeed much more common in BrE. Both cases in the AmE sample were hard graft. Most of the 'work' uses in BrE were also modified by an adjective, but in addition to hard, there was honest, sheer, real, tireless etc. 

Second thing to notice: the 'corruption' sense is hardly unknown in BrE--but about half as frequent as in AmE. In both corpora, tissue grafts (on trees, skin, veins, bones, etc.) are the most common kind of graft.

Third, the 'spade/shovel' sense is particular to BrE. The OED defines it as 'a narrow crescent-shaped spade used by drainers', and its only citation is from a 1893 Worcestershire dialect glossary. One of the corpus examples mentioned it as a Norfolk term--these are not particularly close to each other, but who knows what was really happening dialectally 100 years ago or what changed in the 100 years till the BNC. (I mention shovel because of the American tendency to use the term instead of spade, discussed back here.)

And then there are more people or at least more famous people named Graft in the US than the UK (probably the former, it's a German name).

The ?? cases were those that I couldn't really tell the meaning of in the little bit of text I was given (e.g. in the BNC: His father quarrelled with the Colonels over some detail of graft). I didn't go to the effort of looking at the larger contexts, which might have helped. But what this 3-4% of ambiguous cases tells us is that even though graft has lots of meanings, they don't cause too much difficulty in understanding the language. The people who originally heard/read those seven ambiguous cases in full context probably had no problem with it at all.

So, my initial reaction 'Americans know about 'work' graft' might only (or particularly) be true of Americans like me who hang around a lot of British people and are able to separate the word from the phrase hard graft. And it just goes to show, you shouldn't trust your memories of words and meanings you've "always" known, as those kinds of memories just aren't very good. Can anyone tell me: is there a name for that kind of false memory/familiarity? It's the opposite of the Recency Illusion, but I've not found a particular name for the 'I've always said it that way' illusion.

Wait, wait! A little message to Arnold Zwicky, and I have the answer: the Antiquity Illusion. I feel like there should be a corollary of it for the effect when one moves from dialect to dialect--i.e. the 'it is old, but not old for you' illusion. The 'native-speaker illusion', perhaps.


  1. I (US) don't believe I have ever encountered the "work" sense.

  2. The "work" sense has an entry in the Australian National Dictionary, giving a British dialect source. (The AND is accessible online at Eric Partridge, in his slang dictionary, also thought this sense had come to be mostly used in Australian and New Zealand.

    The Australian citations include examples with no qualifying adjective, e.g. "I’ve been out of graft for months..." from 1892.

    There are also examples showing that the usage was regarded as being local to Australia and New Zealand, as in a NZ reference from 1853 :"I could make more money by 'hard graft', as they call labour in the colonies." And from a 1913 Henry Lawson story: "'I've been used to hard work' (they call 'graft' work in England)."

    As an Australian, I have the feeling that "graft" is not much used in this sense today, except in phrases like "hard graft". In the absence of any publically accesible corpus of Australian English, it's hard to test this, but a search of news stories using "grafter" produced a few examples from sports stories - for example, in a 2009 article in the Melbourne "Age": "As a footballer, he was a grafter, the proverbial workhorse forward." I think sports writing is often the last refuge for dated colloquialisms.

  3. I, a native AmE speaker, had to think hard before recalling an instance of 'graft' meaning 'work.' But then, as I also spent considerable time in the UK, I'm not sure that my recollection is of ancient or recent origin. Did I learn it through vast reading as a youth or was it something I saw in a London newspaper? No way of telling.

  4. As an American, even one who spends a fair amount of time around people from Britain, as well as watching BBC shows and reading British literature, I was completely unfamiliar with "graft" meaning "work." Indeed, I was also unfamiliar with the phrase "hard graft," which, although it apparently exists in American English, is extremely uncommon.

  5. (AmE) - only know graft as either medical connecting and criminality.
    But I HAVE experienced those false memories.

  6. The "work" sense has an entry in the Australian National Dictionary, giving a British dialect source. Eric Partridge, in his slang dictionary, also thought this sense had come to be mostly used in Australian and New Zealand.

    The Australian citations include examples with no qualifying adjective, e.g. "I’ve been out of graft for months..." from 1892.

    There are also examples showing that the usage was regarded as being local to Australia and New Zealand, as in a NZ reference from 1853 :"I could make more money by 'hard graft', as they call labour in the colonies." And from a 1913 Henry Lawson story: "'I've been used to hard work' (they call 'graft' work in England)."

    As an Australian, I have the feeling that "graft" is not much used in this sense today, except in phrases like "hard graft". In the absence of any publicly accesible corpus of Australian English, it's hard to test this, but a search of news stories using "grafter" produced a few examples from sports stories - for example, in a 2009 article in the Melbourne "Age": "As a footballer, he was a grafter, the proverbial workhorse forward." I think sports writing is often the last refuge for dated colloquialisms.

  7. Native speaker of InE here, and I'm quite familiar with "graft" in the "hard-work" sense, thanks to cricket reporting.

    has about 200 results, and most are in the sense of hard-work.

    Now a US resident, and still coming to terms with the "corruption" meaning.

  8. I too did not know either graft 'work' or hard graft 'hard work' until today, and I think neither one is normal AmE.

    An interesting word in this connection is job, which once meant (as the stately OED has it) 'a public office or position of trust which is turned to personal gain or political advantage; a transaction in which duty or the public interest is sacrificed for the sake of such an advantage.' This is first recorded in 1667 and for the last time in 1888 (though a few outliers in scare quotes, showing that they are abnormal usages, appear in 1915, 1936, and 1979).

  9. COBUILD records the Atlantic divide

    4 Graft means hard work; an informal use in British English. EG ... the hard graft of the working men ... In his constituency he was noted for his hard graft. ‣ used as a verb. EG ... after a day of grafting.

    5 Graft is also the act of obtaining money by using your position of power, especially political power; used in American English. EG graft and corruption.

    My impression is that the phrase hard graft used to be much more common than graft in other collocations — but that it has become more generally frequent in recent decades. It's a particularly suitable word for the concerns and style of popular journalism.

    The combination graft and corruption is not uncommon in British usage. I've always thought of it as hendiadys (not such a rare word if you had my sort of education) — saying the same thing twice with two synonyms. I see I was wrong. I wonder how many of those 14 British uses were of this fixed phrase.

  10. COBUILD does not, of course, list the 'spade' meaning. It divides the 'tissue' meaning in three:

    1 A graft is a piece of healthy skin or bone, ora healthy organ, which is attached to a damaged part of your body by a medical operation to replace it. EG Laverne had gone to Chicago for skin grafts on her thighs. ‣ used as a verb. EG the new veins grafted to his heart.

    2 if you graft a part of a plant or tree on to another plant or tree, you join them together so that they will become one plant or tree, often in order to produce a new variety. EG You can graft pears on towhee thorn or may tree ... Apples are easily grafted.

    3 if you graft one idea or system on to another, you try to join one to the other; often used showing disapproval. EG modern federal structures grafted on to ancient cultural divisions introduction grafted upon ideas from a very different sources.

    Apparently the uses of sense [2] and sense [3] as a noun are not common enough in the data bank to justify listing. I for one, however, could use the graft to mean 'the thing grafted' both in the concrete horticultural sense and the abstract compositional sense.

  11. I am amazed that the corruption sense of 'graft' is so common in BrE. I've never heard of it before and am now wondering if I've misinterpreted it in the past.

  12. David Crosbie's comment led me to check whether BrE was more likely than AmE to say 'corruption and graft' (or 'graft and corruption'). While I was reading along, I had noted to myself that it was pretty easy to tell the 'corrupt' senses of 'graft' in the corpora because there was often a near-synonym nearby.

    BNC has one case of each. COCA has 28 'graft and corruption' and 4 'corruption and graft'. So it doesn't look to me like it's necessarily the case that BrE does more of that kind of disambiguation than AmE does...

  13. As a BrE speaker the first time I remember hearing the corruption sense was in Kenya, in about 2003, on a news report on their corruption commission. I've since heard it used in UK news reports describing foreign corruption.

    Local corruption scandals seem to either get their own description like cash for questions and loans for lordships or be described as "bungs".

  14. Bits from the OED online.

    1. The first sense given for graft as a noun (graft, n.1 is the 'horticultural tuning grafted' sense ignored by COBUILD.

    2. Before the definition as a type of spade (graft, n.3: 2 it gives '1 The depth of earth that may be thrown up at once with a spade'. This just feels so right — a mixture of draught and grave.

    3. The earliest (1853) quote for graft, n.4 is I could make more money by ‘hard graft’, as they call labour in the colonies. An Australian origin, then?

  15. Native AmE speaker living in mid-Atlantic US - besides the medical/horticultural sense(s) of the word, I am only familiar with the 'corruption' definition of 'graft', which I learned in high school in an American History course. Can't recall coming across many instances of it since then, and never in the sense of 'work' (I've never come across the phrase 'hard graft' either).

  16. In Br.English there is of course the verb 'graft' = 'to work (hard)'; and noun grafter = 'one who works (hard)' is also not uncommon. The only sense for the latter in the American corpus appears to be the 'one who takes part in corruption, deceit' sense.

    The spade sense looks to derive from graft/graff v. 'dig' (ultimately related to grave) acc. to the OED.

    OED suggests that grift 'obtain money by deception etc.' is a modification of graft, and hence grifter 'swindler, con artist' etc., cf. the novel 'The Grifters' and its 1990 film adaptation.

  17. I'm afraid my default sense of "graft" is as in transplant... (BrE speaker, remembering headlines about "heart grafts" many years ago). And of course, apple trees. But I think I would think of the hard work sense before I thought of the corruption sense.

  18. Oddly, I only know the tissue sense of graft (Northeast US, but an immigrant of 21 years)

  19. I second ros' comment; whatever about USians using graft=toil, I think I would struggle to successfully interpret graft=corruption. If it were at all ambiguous, I would guess wrong.

    The BrE equivalent of graft = corruption is "sleaze", which in AmE is restricted to "sexual corruption". I think the semantics bleached in the UK in the John Major years, when waves of "Tory sleaze" stories ran the gamut from toe jobs and hookers to perjury and fraud.

  20. As pointed out by Mark above, in BrE "graft" is also a verb with a meaning ("work hard") that is perfectly tranparent to this BrE-epaeker, especially in the phrase "graft away" -- as in "I've been grafting away all day", "there are no short cuts; you've just got to keep grafting away (at it)".

    I'm wondering if this verbal use of "graft" -- perhaps a figurative usage from the idea of wielding a spade didn't perhaps precede its nominalization (compare "spadework" for -- in this case, preliminary -- hard work).

  21. "BrE-epaeker" is, of course, tired-typist-English for "BrE-speaker"...

  22. The OED's entry for "graft" in the corruption sense proves again the reason why Gove kept such arbitrary flags out of the NID3: Coming to conclusions about the precise milieu or manner in which a word is used is simply too subjective. I would never think of "graft" (as in corruption) as a colloquial usage, maybe slightly informal, but it's not a usage so much associated with informal speech as with formal news reports.

    "Hard graft"? Never heard of this, and I grew up reading only English children's books, though I'm American by birth, and still. I suppose Enid Blyton never got around to using the term?

  23. Geof

    Coming to conclusions about the precise milieu or manner in which a word is used is simply too subjective.

    Surely the objective basis is the nature of the texts where the word is found — and the very marked frequency of quotes around it.

  24. @Mollymooly: I use 'sleaze/sleazy' for far broader peccadilloes than just sexual ones. 'Sleazy politicians' can be capable of keeping it zipped, but may be weak when it comes to accepting or offering 'favors'.

  25. I'm not sure "sleaze" is used in AmE to mean sexual corruption. That's certainly a new sense to me. Not that it might not be used when talking about sexual corruption, but it would describe a person, not the corruption. It can also refer to media items (books, movies, etc.).

  26. I grew up in the USA and have lived in England since 2006. I had a Japanese flatmate in London who told me about a disappointing afternoon where he was in Chinatown and went to a massage place. He studies bodywork and was disappointed to get a bad massage and an offer of sexual release. When he told me about his experience I listened sympathetically and said that Chinatown has some sleazy places (which sent us to his English-Japanese dictionary). That's an illustration of what 'sleazy' means to me -- something sexual that is some combination of illicit, immoral, illegal, and generally a bit depressing.

  27. Jill

    something sexual that is some combination of illicit, immoral, illegal, and generally a bit depressing

    That's what it used to mean for me. But then, as mollymooly said, the word was popularised by the papers to cover all the scandals around John Major's government — both sexual and pecuniary.

    Graft might have been a appropriate term for the latter, but the papers usually had no desire to distinguish the sexual from the non-sexual — and the word really wasn't used in that sense in British usage. Well, not to any large extent.

    When they did want to distinguish with a snappy phrase, the press was happy with cash for questions (to be followed later by cash for honours) and, best of all, brown envelopes.

  28. As a native AmE speaker aged 50+ years with a reasonably good education, I was quite startled to learn that "hard graft" is a common expression this side of the pond, for I've NEVER encountered it before now. I knew that the work sense was a Britishism, but I've only encountered the 'corruption' and the 'medical/horticultural' usages here.

  29. Quick catch, Lynne! (Whoever/Who ever.)

  30. A famous talk, given in 1905 by a New York State Senator, on what he called "honest graft":

    We read this one in high school American History. I add my voice to the chorus of Americans who've never heard of the graft=work meaning.

  31. Peter

    To my British ears honest graft would mean working hard without trying to disguise what hasn't been done.

    I suppose the British translation of Senator Plunkitt's honest graft would be 'out for all you can get'.

  32. In my (AmE) experience, "graft" is exclusively dishonest unless used in a medical or horticultural context. I would interpret the phrase "honest graft" as an ironic usage to describe, e.g., the situation where a hardworking and low-paid functionary for a party machine like Tammany Hall rises to a position where he's important enough to be bribed, and then actually performs the favors for which he's accepted the bribes - i.e., once you buy him, he stays bought.

    On a side note, why isn't the BrE version spelled "graught"?

  33. From a British point of view, this is one of those odd occasions where a word can have almost opposite meanings depending on the context. Most of the time graft means hard work in the UK but it sometimes also means corruption. A bit confusing. Actually I think a lot of less well-read people in the UK wouldn't know the corruption meaning.

  34. Ted

    According to the OED

    1. 'Transplanted' graft was graff before it acquired a t.

    2. Obsolete 'ditch/moat' graft is a Dutch word with Dutch spelling.

    3. 'Spade's depth' graft is from a word way back in history with an f sound — unlike draught/draft which way back in history had a g sound, and for much of the history of English had a sort of messy h sound.

    [I think it's generally true that a gh spelling represents a pronunciation with this sort of 'fricative' sound at the time when spelling was standardised. Pronunciation changed, but spelling didn't.]

    4. 'Work' graft wasn't written down until the nineteenth century, so the spelling reflects the current pronunciation.

    5. 'Corruption' graft was also first written down in the nineteenth century.

    There are also four graft verbs — with the same etymology, and hence the same spelling, as nouns 1, 3, 4 and 5.

  35. >> On a side note, why isn't the BrE version spelled "graught"? <<

    Now don't be daught, Ted..! ;-)

    Seriously, if there was an f in the OE then generally there's an f in the modern English too: e.g. OE æfter > Modern English after; gedæfte (gentle) > daft (foolish) -- with modification of the meaning, of course.

    So that OE verb græfþ (digs) > to Modern English noun graft (hard work) would not be a surprising development. Cf. also OE hæft (handle) > Modern English haft.

    Modern -ught, on the other hand, is, as xx suggests, a reflection of Old English -ht: e.g. dræht > draught; hleahtor > laughter; etc.

    David: >>Obsolete 'ditch/moat' graft is a Dutch word with Dutch spelling.<<

    But the Dutch word with this meaning is spelt "gracht", at least in modern Dutch spelling.

    On the whole question of BrE graft=work v. AmE graft=corruption, I'm coming increasingly to the view that the two graft words are etymologically unrelated homographs - the BrE graft deriving from the idea of digging, the AmE word from that of the word (originally "graff") which means a "shoot inserted into another plant".

    I must say that when, many years ago, I first heard "graft" being used in its American sense I thought of it as deriving from the idea of the horticultural "graft"; the picture that suggested itself to my mind was that of something smaller gaining sustenance by attaching itself / becoming attached to a larger "adoptive parent" body -- just as criminal activity feeds off legitimate business.

  36. Kevin

    But the Dutch word with this meaning is spelt "gracht", at least in modern Dutch spelling.

    According to the OED, graft was a Middle Dutch form. The gracht form also dates from Middle Dutch but this wasn't the variant taken into English.

  37. I've never heard the doublet 'graft and corruption'. It's always been 'bribery and corruption'.

    'Sleaze' I'd regard as meaning 'grubbily disreputable', quite likely in a sexual way but not necessarily, but definitely at the lower end of the market.

    I've heard 'graft' used to mean 'corruption', but as an American word. If used by an English person, I think it would be used to set the scene somewhere in the US,just as a writer might use a word like 'gumshoe', 'quarterback' or 'tammany'.

  38. If I may intrude - as a French individual who studied English at University, I can remember learning the expression 'graft and embezzlement', the two usually joined together in press articles (individual fraud and organised fraud). I just checked a minute ago and indeed, I can find a lot of such occurrences on the net.
    As for the horticultural and medical meanings, I came across them with copies of the Reader's Digest I used to get when I was young (just personal memories - what did you call them, Lynne ? ^^).
    I'd never come across the sense of 'work' yet. Thx for the tip !

    (a lovely blog, this is!)

  39. I heard a lady on BBC Radio 4 today describing how her elderly mother has 'grafted all her life - she's not a scrounger, so why can't she get good social care from her local council?'
    It's not a word I would use myself (BrE) but I do understand it in the work sense, and a grafter as a hard worker, doing something monotonous.
    To me, hard graft is closer to a prison occupation - sewing mailbags, perhaps!

  40. Yet another interesting article where I'm learning some surprising differences between english dialects. I like this blog, just whish I had the time to read all the posts, thank you!

  41. When I saw that the British expression "honest graft" meant hard work, I was surprised, because I associated that phrase with the American Tammany politician George Washington Plunkett who famously defended certain practices now universally thought unethical. From the Wikipedia bio:

    He made most of his money through land purchases, which he knew would be needed for public projects. He would buy such parcels, then resell them at an inflated price. (This was "Honest Graft". "Dishonest Graft" according to Plunkitt, would be buying land and then using influence to have a project built on it.)

  42. Curiously, "graft" in the sense of unethical behavior by public officials, is not listed in my 1899 ten volume Century Dictionary, or in the 1933 OED, but does make the grade in the 1909 Webster's New International unabridged. My 1929 Funk and Wagnall's has this citation:

    "The boodler sells his official vote or buys official acts contrary to the Law. He is a grafter, but a grafter is not necessarily a boodler. Grafting may or may not be lawful. It is either a special privilege exercised contrary to law or one the law itself may give."
    Gov. Jos. W. Folk, NY Evening Post, Nov. 23, '05.

    I don't think "boodler" ever made it to Britain, and is nearly forgotten in the US.

  43. Rich

    The OED of 1989 and later does include graft='corruption' but all the pre-1933 quotations are from American texts or texts describing America or quoting Americans.

    The current OED also includes these senses for boodle

    2 a. Counterfeit money. U.S. slang.

    2b. Money acquired or spent illegally or improperly, esp. in connection with the obtaining or holding of public offices; the material means or gains of bribery and corruption; also, money in general. slang (orig. U.S.).

    In quotations from British and Irish authors boodle means simply 'money' — used like spondoolics or dosh. I don't remember ever in my long life having heard the word —but then If I had, the meaning would have been so obvious that it wouldn't really have registered.

    The agent-noun boodler is backed by two American quotations, but also one from the English Liberal politician CGF Masterman in 1909

    The average citizen‥is not yet convinced that its [sc. Socialism's] adherents will make a better job of it than the ‘boodlers’ and ‘blood suckers’.

    It didn't catch on.

  44. InE user here,

    Am familiar with both usages i.e. 'hard work" and "corruption".

    In my society, the common usage and frequent interpretation today is "corruption" instead of "hard work" which is well understood in cricket watching circles and those schooled in British English.

    Perhaps a reflection of American English dominating new generations.

  45. David Crosbie:

    Thanks for the further info on "boodler". I like the sound of the word, and think I shall try to revive it. I'll start by writing an angry letter to my local newspaper denouncing the boodlers in City Hall and in the county government. As my particular part of Alabama is rather famous for corruption, the letter should go over well.

    Incidentally, the Governor Jos. Folk cited by F&W was not a governor of New York state, as I thought, but a governor of Missouri. He was such a renowned anti-corruption reformer he was known as "Holy Joe." Interesting character.

  46. Rich

    How could I have forgotten the name James "Boodle It" Wiggins?

    He was a decent but unexceptional blues singer who played the kazoo and harmonica a bit, but he made some terrific records in the late twenties with some of the best barrelhouse pianists of the day.

    Unless he was claiming to be a political fixer, it's hard to see what he meant by boodle it.

  47. I have just seen 'boodle' as the answer to a crossword clue - informal money (and then an anagram of two other words) - in a BrE magazine.

  48. Boodle was a nonsense word favored by Southern jug band musicians in the 20s.

    "I know this song don't mean a thing
    just do that plain old Charleston swing, when you sing

    Toodle am toodle am toodle am now
    Boodle am Boodle am Boodle am wow"
    (Jack Palmer and Spencer Williams, "Boodle Am Shake" 1926)

    Of course, when I say "nonsense" I mean brimming with implied sexual tones both over- and under-. cf. "Beedle am bam" in "What's the Matter" by Memphis Jug Band. (Thx

  49. Peter

    Thanks for directing me to the jug band examples. I'd forgotten how much In fact boodle-um and beedle-um there was in them. But it wash't confined to southern jug bands. Big Bill, Georgia Tom and others popularised a Chicago hokum band song in which beedle-um-bum is a noun. And there were solo performances by Ben Curry and Bogus Ben Covington (who may have been the same person).

    But these are all 'nonsense' phrases — even if, as you say, highly suggestive. The verb boodle is found in isolation. For a start there's another Boodle It I'd completely and utterly forgotten about: Willie (Boodle It) Right. And Jimmy Yancey recorded a tune called Boodlin'. I guess that makes the verb pretty unambiguous — nothing remotely related to selling votes.

  50. Did anybody else from the UK hear them use "graft" on the news last night in the sense of work? It was in an article on prisoners working for next-to-no money.... I noticed, and thought of this discussion!

  51. Annabel

    I looked for your item on the BBC News website. I didn't find it, but typing graft into Search produced interesting results:

    • A dozen stories of corruption — all in foreign (i.e. non-British) countries, mostly India.

    • Half a dozen stories featuring skin graft (real or metaphorical) and mistletoe graft, plus a couple about organ transplant.

    • Eight 'hard work' related stories — all set in Britain. Somewhat to my surprise, most use graft to denote the application' (or slog, I might say) needed to succeed — in sport (half the stories), in film making and in pop music: "life-affirming graft rock".

  52. Annabel

    I tried again and found it. The story can be viewed — at least on UK computers and possibly elsewhere — by clicking here.

    Almost at the end (02:54) Mark Easton speaks of making prisons place of graft and toil while preparing prisoners for the outside world. Near the beginning (00.24) he uses the quainter wording honest labour.

  53. Meanwhile, from yesterday's New York Times: "South Africans Suffer as Graft Saps Provinces."

  54. US resident here and I absolutely only know graft=work from British stuff. And it's never my first thought. So it's often either funny or confusing, as with this line from a farmer on Dalziel & Pascoe as he excuses his deliberately infecting his sheep with foot and mouth (to get the government money) by saying:

    It took me thirty years to build this place, thirty years of graft.

  55. Today's top story: "Intractable Afghan Graft Hampering U.S. Strategy." (

  56. yank here who watches a fair amt of brit tv and lived briefly in mother blighty, but had never heard graft in any positive/work sense -- with or without "hard" affixed -- until viewing the FR TED CHRISTMAS SPECIAL last week (OK, i'm a little behind). he indeed refers to a life of "honesty and hard graft".

    i figured i must be mishearing "craft" through his accent. until i googled.

    which leads me to wonder -- if OED is still undecided on the etymology of the work "graft", might it NOT be a corruption of "craft"? it certainly fits!

  57. "Graft" means "hard work" for me. My friend's grandma from Yorkshire uses this word very often (she describes herself as a "grafter" too).
    I've never heard of the "corruption" sense though.

  58. Hi
    I think both meanings come from the gemanic word, meaning a spadeful, but is defined by 'spit' which is a spade of earth that you would dig if you were digging all day... Eg a manageable load. A graft is a full spade. So heavier than a spit and both "hard work" and "grabbing more" .
    Normal people dig spits, handworkers dig grafts.
    Normal people dig spits, conmen dig grafts.

  59. BrE. “Boodle”, in the sense of money (or better, loot) is the title of a 1934 collection of Simon Templar (the Saint) stories.


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AmE = American English
BrE = British English
OED = Oxford English Dictionary (online)