American use of the word 'graft'

In the UK, graft means (hard) work. Is the word used in this context in the US?

e.g. I stripped the wallpaper off every room in our house yesterday, it was hard graft I can tell you.

John’s a great guy to have on your team, a real grafter - he puts the hours in.

I’ve read (on this board) the word being used in contexts relating to political corruption - you very occasionally see this usage in the UK, it’s rare. Do you also use it to mean work?

Not that I’ve ever heard.

No, I’ve only ever heard the word used in this sense by the British.

Huh, I’ve only heard ‘graft’ with reference to growing a part from one plant onto another plant.

Me, too. Never either for hard work, nor for political corruption.

I think that “graft” was used to mean corruption much more often in the past. I don’t hear it used that way much anymore.

Yeah, I’ve heard of skin grafts and apple tree grafts and people getting in trouble for bribery and graft but not in a sense meaning work.

I think the corruption meaning might be a corruption of “grift”. In any event, though, I’ve never heard the term used for honest work, at least for anyone working outside of a garden nursery.

Really, nobody’s heard of graft meaning political corruption? It’s the first Google result for the word for me, and the first thing I thought of ven before the plant/skin thing.

It entered the lexicon around the time of Tammany Hall, and may have come from the Irish immigrants.

I would use it for “graft and corruption” and for plant and skin grafts as mentioned above. Not for hard work.

Never heard it. To my ears, “graft”, as a noun, either means “ill-gotten gain obtained by corrupt practice or unfair cronyism” or “transplant material or tissue (medical or horticultural)”.

I note that some dictionaries do report your definition (definition 3 here) but notes that it’s a British usage.

I’ve never heard it this side of the pond, but I’m probably not watching enough BBC America.

I wonder if the British usage did inspire the American meaning. I seem to recall that the crooked police captain in The Godfather prided himself on only accepting “clean graft” when he worked the beat. The shopkeepers supplemented his income & he worked extra hard to keep undesirables out of the neighborhood.

Both the British(mainly) usage of work, especially hard work and the chiefly U.S. usage to mean advantage or money gotten by illegal means occur about the same time–mid 1800s.

Familiar with, and use the term in all three contexts.

When applied to work it’s always hard graft, there’s no easy graft, which is a contrast to political graft.

Also applied in a sports context, e.g. in cricket for batsman who are capable of batting for extended period in difficult conditions. Can also be applied to bowlers, or even the state of play e.g. “Graft & grind”.


According to the OED, graft comes ultimately from old Norse/Germanic words meaning “digging”. (Grave, the hole in which you bury a body, is related.) From “digging” the meaning expands to include other forms of strenous work.

Graft in the horticultural sense comes from a different source - through French, from a Latin word meaning a pen - probably because the slip that is grafted is typically not unlike a quill pen in size and shape.

The origin of graft in the sense of profit or advantage obtained dishonestly is unclear. Some suggest that it’s an ironic use of graft in the sense of work, the point being that you don’t have to work to obtain (dishonest) graft. Others suggest it’s a horticultural analogy; the grafted slip draws nourishment from the root-stock of another plant, just as the corrupt person profits from work that someone else has done.

American and graft to me was always either corruption (bribery) or something you do to trees or plants or skin.


In the US, I have heard it used only in reference to:
3 a : the acquisition of money, position, or other profit by dishonest or questionable means (as by actual theft or by taking advantage of a public office or a position of trust or employment to obtain fees, perquisites, profits on contracts, or pay for work not done or service not performed) : illegal or unfair practice for profit or personal gain tried to clear the graft, waste, and inefficiency out of government claimed that any large and complex business organization tended to breed graft because of the inevitable towering hierarchy of command b : something gained in this way no matter how much graft his subordinates may have garnered— Green Peyton c : something given as payment to one engaged in such a practice forced to pay out graft to local politicians to avoid being annoyed by the police d : a means or method of making such gain or advantage systematic appropriation of public funds by lawless political groups T and the more honest graft of special favors to real-estate or public-service interests— H.E.Davis

I’m 28 and in the U.S., and I’m only familiar with its usage of transplanting a part of something onto something else. As a noun, it’s what is transplanted. has the same best guess, though the terms have distinct meanings. Graft is political corruption, bribes, kickbacks, etc, or the proceeds derived therefrom. Grift is the act of working an actual scam, hustle or theft. This itself is distinct from working the rackets, which encompass gambling, prostitution and protection among other things and implies a higher level of organization.

I have never heard graft used to mean hard and/or honest work.