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Dr Klaus Bung
68 Brantfell Road
Blackburn BB1-8DL

© 2010 Klaus Bung

Teachers tell you what to learn, IDYLL shows you how to learn it

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Klaus Bung:
If a job's worth doing

The full proverb is "If a job's worth doing, it is worth doing well". It is customary in England to quote only the first half of a proverb and let the listener remember the other half. That is good native style. Similarly it is good and necessary for the language student to know many proverbs and to get used to recognising their abbreviated form. Otherwise there will be many remarks (and newspaper headlines) which he will not understand. Read more below.

2010-08-28: If a job's worth doing

I listened to The Archers, a soap opera on BBC Radio 4 which has been running daily since 1950.

Many different accents and styles of speaking are represented and it can be useful for foreigners to listen to this and get an impression of the wide variety of English spoken in England by native speakers of different social classes. Click here if you want to listen to the Archers or download the programme. I understand (= I have been told) that, even on the Internet, you can not listen to all BBC programmes in every part of the world, but I do no know where you can access these programmes and where you can't. So do try, but if you do not succeed, don't shoot me. I am ever so sorry.

I heard Susan, who is expecting important guests, in the village shop buying fresh coffee. She was shocked by the price (presumably she normally buys Nescafe) and then decided, with a sigh, to buy it anyway, saying (with a certain intonation): "Well, if a job's worth doing", to which Linda Snell, the other customer in the shop, responded: "Yes, I quite agree".

If you have never heard this kind of exchange before, you might well be puzzled: Susan has not spoken a complete sentence, she has not made a statement. So what on earth is Linda agreeing to?

Explanation: The English have the habit of quoting only the first half of proverbs and common sayings. The other person knows the second half and responds to the complete virtual statement.

Susan was really saying: "If a job's worth doing, it is worth doing well." In her case, if it was worthwhile to invite her classy guests, then she might as well make sure that her dinner party is a success and buy the best food and drinks and "pull out all the stops" (= do her best) to make this dinner party a success, regardless of price.

Linda understood this from the few words that Susan said and expressed her agreement accordingly.


I searched Google for: "if a job's worth doing". I found

  • an article in THE TIMES (London) entitled precisely "If a job's worth doing", and no more, which proves my point. Every reader of the Times will know the unspoken part of the headline
  • a blog entitled exactly "If a job's worth doing"
  • an article on home improvements also entitled "If a job's worth doing", but then giving the full proverb in the text. Home improvements and building work are a good area in which to apply this proverb.

Teachers tell you what to learn, IDYLL shows you how to learn it