‘Good Enough For State Work’: Definition, Meaning and Examples

By Sophia Merton, updated on May 5, 2023

Did someone use the phrase 'good enough for state work' and you’re wondering what it means? In this article, we’ll look at the meaning, origin, examples, and more.

In short, 'good enough for state work' or the more common idiom 'good enough for government work' means something is adequate, serviceable, or passably sufficient.

What Does 'Good Enough for State Work' Mean?

'Good enough for state work' or 'good enough for government work' means that something is good enough or only satisfactory. The implication is that government or state work is typically mediocre.

The idiom 'good enough for state work' is a variation of the more common phrase 'good enough for government work.' You will also hear a similar phrase occasionally in the form of 'close enough for government work.'

When someone says that something is 'good enough for state work,' they say that the job done is adequate though imperfect. The idea is that even though the task wasn't accomplished as well as it could have been, it's not worth the time or effort to improve it.

Where Does 'Good Enough for State Work' Come From?

The idiom 'good enough for state work' and its more common synonym, 'good enough for government work,' has evolved interestingly over time.

Originally used to describe something that was the best of the best, the idiom now means the exact opposite.

Around the turn of the 20th century, good enough for government work' was used in relation to something of the highest quality. This meaning persisted through the Second World War. Around the '60s and '70s, the meaning inverted and began to refer to shoddily done work.

'Good Enough for State Work' in Publications

Using the Google Books Ngram Viewer, we see that 'good enough for state work' isn't nearly as common as 'good enough for government work' or 'close enough for government work.' The tool couldn't find entries for 'good enough for state work.'

Both 'good enough for government work' and 'close enough for government work' began appearing much more regularly in the early 1940s and quickly became more popularly used. 'Close enough for government work' is the more commonly used version of the idiom.

An older example of this phrase in print back in 1872 in the publication The Dental Cosmos: A Monthly Record of Dental Science:

"The underlying foundation of all these Foils is the Government mint bar, which is 0.997 to 0.998 3/4 fine. This is good enough for government work, but it is not pure enough for our purposes. Mint bars are subjected, in our laboratories, to the most exacting refining processes for the elimination of the last trace of impurity or alloy with witch science and skill know how to cope."

A more recent example can be found in a U.S. Department of the Army publication from 1972 entitled Construction Drafting:

"The success of any project depends to a great extent upon the amount of detail and care taken in planning it. The drafting shop should not be run on the theory that it's "good enough for government work." In relationship to the amount of time allotted to the drafting shop to do the jobs, only the best work should ever come from the shop."

Examples of 'Good Enough for State Work' In Sentences

How would 'good enough for state work' be used in a sentence? Let’s take a look at some examples:

  • "When my coworker and I decided to leave early and head to the bar, he turned in our project and whispered to me, "Good enough for state work, right?" before we walked out the door."
  • "The attitude of everyone at the office is unacceptable. They seem to think that "good enough for state work" is the standard, but they are mistaken."
  • "It might not be the most beautiful cake I've ever seen, but it's good enough for state work. I'm sure the people at the potluck won't be too picky."
  • "John will never succeed in his business endeavors if he's always trying to cut corners. I can tell that he is always thinking to himself that his work is good enough for state work, and I can tell it's not going to end well."
  • "I feel like such an amateur. Whenever I finish a project my superior says, "Well, it's good enough for state work!" I want to show them that I can be more than just sufficient at this job-- I know that I can excel."
  • "I can't believe it, I'm stuck in traffic again because this is the worst-designed intersection in the whole state. You know what they say, good enough for state work, am I right?"

Final Thoughts About 'Good Enough for State Work'

'Good enough for state work,' 'good enough for government work,' and 'close enough for government work' are all ways of describing something adequate, sufficient, and serviceable.

The implication is that government work never goes above and beyond-- it typically only achieves a bare minimum of functionality. You can use the phrase to describe something as passably sufficient but ultimately of mediocre quality.

Are you ready to learn more English phrases and expand your vocabulary? Check out our idioms blog for idioms, expressions, sayings, and more!

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Written By:
Sophia Merton
Sophia Merton is one of the lead freelance writers for WritingTips.org. Sophia received her BA from Vassar College. She is passionate about reading, writing, and the written word. Her goal is to help everyone, whether native English speaker or not, learn how to write and speak with perfect English.

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