- (idiomatic) One or more unpleasant tasks, assignments, or employment duties, especially those of a disreputable or illicit nature.
- 1848, Elizabeth Gaskell, chapter 2, in Mary Barton:
- . . . a sort of little back kitchen, where dirty work, such as washing up dishes, might be done.
- 1893, Horatio Alger, chapter 21, in Cast Upon the Breakers:
- "I am no telltale," said James scornfully. . . . Jasper urged James to give information about Rodney, but he steadily refused. "I leave others to do such dirty work," he said.
- 1917, Upton Sinclair, chapter 11, in King Coal:
- [M]any a business-man can say he doesn't do dirty work, because he has others do it for him.
- 1936, George Orwell, "Shooting an Elephant":
- In a job like that you see the dirty work of Empire at close quarters. The wretched prisoners huddling in the stinking cages of the lock-ups, the grey, cowed faces of the long-term convicts, the scarred buttocks of the men who had been Bogged with bamboos – all these oppressed me with an intolerable sense of guilt.
- 2003 Feb. 4, Elaine Shannon et al., "At Home, the FBI Keeps Tabs On Iraqis," Time:
- US experts believe the Iraqi intelligence service will set the plots in motion, then recruit or extort amateurs to do the dirty work.
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