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1. Vigorous scrubbing, typically to clean something. You'll never get that rust off without some elbow grease.
2. By extension, any strenuous, effortful physical work needed to do or accomplish something. It took some elbow grease, but I finally got this old engine up and running again. I know we're running out of time, but if we all use a bit of elbow grease, I think we'll be able to get the house built before the deadline.
Farlex Dictionary of Idioms. © 2015 Farlex, Inc, all rights reserved.
Fig. hard scrubbing. Tom: What did you use to get your car so shiny? Mary: Just regular wax and some elbow grease. Joe put a lot of elbow grease into cleaning the kitchen.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs. © 2002 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
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." [First half of 1600s]
The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer. Copyright © 2003, 1997 by The Christine Ammer 1992 Trust. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Elbow grease is the hard physical work of cleaning something. It took a considerable amount of polish and elbow grease before the brass shone like new. These products are designed to take the elbow grease out of cleaning.
Collins COBUILD Idioms Dictionary, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2012
ˈelbow grease(informal) the effort used in physical work, especially in cleaning: The bath was so old and stained that we couldn’t get it clean no matter how much elbow grease we used.
Farlex Partner Idioms Dictionary © Farlex 2017
n. effort. All this job needs is a little more elbow-grease.
McGraw-Hill's Dictionary of American Slang and Colloquial Expressions Copyright © 2006 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All rights reserved.
elbow grease, to use
To apply physical effort. It has been said that this expression, dating from the seventeenth century, originally referred to a joke played on a new apprentice, who was sent out to a shop to purchase “elbow grease.” Originally meaning simply to use one’s arm vigorously in scrubbing or polishing, it soon was transferred to other kinds of effort as well. “Forethought is the elbow-grease which a novelist—or poet, or dramatist—requires,” said Anthony Trollope (Thackeray, 1874).
The Dictionary of Clichés by Christine Ammer Copyright © 2013 by Christine Ammer