Good Enough For Government Work

Text: “Good enough for government work” (folk speech/proverb)


G is my father, who was born and raised in Richmond, Virginia, who now lives in Salem, VA. His family owned a lot of farmland and they didn’t quite live in Richmond, but about 25 minutes outside of the city. It was pretty rural, definitely not suburban, but there were a few neighbors every once in awhile. He has many many pieces of folklore that he says, he has heard people say, and he has from books or movies, in my family he is pretty much known to have a proverb or saying for everything.

G- “I have done a job, be it raking leaves, or cutting grass, or painting a big round table, where I did the best job I could do but it could never be perfectly done and when I finished the job, I say ‘that’s good enough for government work’, meaning if it had been inspected by a government official, they would sign off on the work being done and complete.”

Interviewer – And where did you first learn of it, or if you don’t remember, have you heard anyone else ever use it?

G- “I learned it from my father, but I have heard many people use it.”


The phrase “Good enough for government work” is a colloquial expression often used to suggest that a task or job has been completed adequately but not necessarily perfectly. It implies a level of acceptable or sufficient performance, often in a somewhat tongue-in-cheek manner. When researching where it cane from, the origin of the saying is not precisely known, but it has become a common part of American English, particularly in informal settings. In my interpretation it is somewhat of a criticism or social commentary of the government and the checks that go into things It has evolved into a broader expression acknowledging that achieving perfection in certain situations may not be practical or necessary. It can be used humorously or pragmatically to convey a sense of meeting a standard without excessive attention to detail.