My Work Here Is Done.

It occurred to me to wonder how far back the titular cliché went. Needless to say, I started by googling, and I found a remarkable unanimity among the websites that aimed to assist the eager seeker after truth; this Check English Words page is representative:

“My work here is done” is a popular phrase that originates from a piece of media called The Lone Ranger. There are countless examples of the phrase being used in pop culture, but The Lone Ranger is the earliest example of it being used. The Lone Ranger came out in 1938, and as the years went by, more and more pop culture movies and shows used the phrase.

I even found a site that gave a specific episode that used it, but I won’t bother to try to find it again, because it’s all a lot of hooey. The Lone Ranger used it for the same reason people use it now: it’s a memorable meme. And it started long before the Ranger ever ranged. A Google Books search easily turned up examples like these:

“Oh yes, my work here is done, and well done.” –Fergus Hume, A Traitor in London (1900), p. 158.

“My work here is done; and I am only going at my Father’s summons.” –T.S. Arthur, “The Story-Teller: Deborah Norman,” Arthur’s Illustrated Home Magazine, Vol. 43 (1875), p. 665.

“But my work here is done.” — George E. Fisher, Declaring all the Counsel of God (1852), p. 16.

“My work here is done. I am going to dwell in a world I am wholly unworthy of.” — David Stowell, Sermon […] (1836), p. 12.

I’m sure I could turn up earlier examples, but I think I’ve proved my point, so my work… well, you know.


  1. Earliest hit for the 5-word sequence in the google books corpus seems to be 1691, but it’s not really the stock/cliche use because it’s part of a larger phrase: “Having in the first chapter proved [blah blah blah], part of my Work here is done already ; till [blah blah blah]?”

    The variant “My work is done here” appears in a 1774-published account of the dying words of this Reverend Welshman:

  2. Great find!

  3. Reference to “a piece of media called the The Lone Ranger” doesn’t exactly boost my confidence in that website.

  4. David Eddyshaw says

    Harris (being Harris) might in turn have been consciously echoing the τετέλεσται, which would antedate it quite a bit. (“Older than Feudalism”, as TVTropes puts it.)

  5. I had in fact been thinking of the Τετέλεσται,* but that particular Englishing of it is not what’s in the (older at least) translations, so the question of how/when the stock phrasing emerged and became “stock” in Anglophone use is still interesting even if it’s ultimately a paraphrase of the Τετέλεσται. There are 17th-century hits for “My work is done” without any “here” that may also have that underlying inspiration, in what is probably (I couldn’t be arsed to click through) a hymn text written or propagated by the prominent sectarian and controversialist Richard Baxter.

    *PSA for the non-cognoscenti: the bit of New Testament Greek in John 19:30 that is traditionally Englished as “It is finished.”

  6. There’s a difference between “My work here is done” as a statement of fullfilled purpose (with or without biblical allusion) and the ironic use of it. The latter, at least as a continuous self-referential tradition or meme, might well be traceable to a single point of origin, but that doesn’t mean that the origin itself is without antecedents.

  7. Fair point.

  8. That said, the last thing the Lone Ranger was was ironic.

  9. I know, but that doesn’t mean that the ironic use couldn’t have begun as a reference to it.

    (I have no opinion on whether that’s actually the case.)

  10. Michael Hendry says

    Am I the only one who saw our host’s tweet “My Work Here Is Done. [link]”, and thought “Oh no! Is LanguageHat shutting down?!? It’s irreplaceable!” and only relaxed after following the link?

  11. “…we are done for…”
    Cobbett’s Weekly Political Register
    Nov. 14, 1812

  12. David Marjanović says

    “It is finished.”

    Oh, that? In German that’s es ist vollbracht – “it is accomplished”. Now I’m wondering if that’s an overinterpretation of the Greek; all I know is that τέλος is “end”…

  13. Am I the only one who saw our host’s tweet “My Work Here Is Done. [link]”, and thought “Oh no! Is LanguageHat shutting down?!? It’s irreplaceable!” and only relaxed after following the link?

    Heh. Sorry about that! It hadn’t even occurred to me it might be taken that way; if it had, I would have retitled it. The last thing I want to do is give people more things to worry about…

  14. Michael Hendry says

    D.M. (5:04pm) reminds me of two of my favorite classical works: the ‘Seven Last Words of Christ on the Cross’, by Schütz and Haydn. The latter is best known in the string quartet version, but I like the orchestral version conducted by Jordi Savall, which includes the Latin words as separate tracks, so the irreligious can easily skip them. (Other versions – all by Haydn, I think – are a full-scale oratorio and a keyboard reduction.)
    To get back to D.M., the sixth of the Last Words is “Es ist vollbracht” in Schütz, “Consummatum est” in Haydn.

  15. I’d like to talk to you about that music you’re using.

  16. Is the masked man indulging in irony, or just goofing around? He calls his faithful Indian sidekick “Tonto”, Spanish for fool. Faithful sidekick returns the favor by addressing the Lone Ranger as “Quimosabe” a corruption of the Spanish Quien no sabe, literally ‘he who doesn’t know” or more figuratively, “know nothing”.

    The writers must have had fun.

  17. I think ‘it is accomplished’ is a much better translation.

  18. “Quimosabe” a corruption of the Spanish Quien no sabe, literally ‘he who doesn’t know”

    Nope, it’s Algonquian (scroll down to “What does ‘Kemosabe’ mean?”).

  19. David Marjanović says

    The verb giimoozaabi, glossed ‘to peek’, is cited in A Concise Dictionary of Minnesota Ojibwe (Nyholm & Nichols 1995).  Richard Rhodes (2002) reports that this term is one of a few words accidentally omitted from the original 1985 edition of his Eastern Ojibwa-Chippewa-Ottawa Dictionary in consequence of a buffer overrun problem in the supporting software.  This error unfortunately went undetected until after publication.  It is not in the 1993 paperback edition either, contrary to the comment in the publisher’s description at  The 1993 edition is an unmodified reprint of the 1985 edition.

    Kemosabe`); DROP TABLE Dictionary;-

  20. Michael Hendry says

    Gary Larson’s The Far Side offers another etymology of Kemosabe, conveniently available here. (I have no opinion on the value of the quoting site: it seems at least more permanent than the various Pinterest pages containing the image.)

  21. Giacomo Ponzetto says

    Oliver Cromwell’s famous last words have traditionally been quoted as:

    “I would be willing to be farther serviceable to God and His People, but my work is done. Yet God will be with His People.”

    Carlyle cites them from a pamphlet published in June 1659, less than a year after Cromwell’s death.

    Admittedly there is no “here,” but that’s my candidate for the original source of the cliché.

  22. Michael Hendry says

    Hmmm. The site I linked won’t let me back-arrow to get back to here. Very annoying. If our host needs to delete the link, just search “Far Side” + Kemosabe + “Lone Ranger” and you will get plenty of images. It’s the one with the long-retired Lone Ranger consulting an “Indian Dictionary” on the meaning of “Kemosabe”.

  23. Not sure if it cleanly antedates Giacomo P.’s Cromwell proposal because context might be a bit different, but it is slightly earlier in time: The earliest version google books seems to have of Richard Baxter’s use of “my work is done” is a pdf of a volume “Printed for T. Underhill and F. Tyson, and are be sold at the Sign of the blue Anchor in Pauls Church-yard, and at the three Daggers in Fleetstreet. 1654.” The volume being “The Saints Everlasting Rest. The Fourth Part.” (With additional wordy subtitles I’m not going to transcribe.)

  24. The iconic use of the phrase for Gen Xers is probably Leonard Nimoy in the Simpsons episode “Monorail”, although he actually says «well, my work is done here ».

  25. @Hat It hadn’t even occurred to me it might be taken that way;

    You must live in a far more emotionally secure world than I’ve experienced over the past 4 years.

    My first reaction was exactly as @Michael H.: Hat has finally lost patience with extracting all those posts from durance vile; and finding some ‘new’ tidbit was actually covered a decade ago.

  26. January First-of-May says

    My first reaction was exactly as @Michael H.

    Ditto. Fortunately it didn’t take very much actual reading to figure out that this was not in fact the case.

  27. Mea maxima culpa!

  28. David Marjanović says

    You must live in a far more emotionally secure world than I’ve experienced over the past 4 years.

    Most of us do – even though perhaps we shouldn’t. Our work in evacuating Bangladesh is, after all, not done.

  29. Wait, is hat announcing his conversion to Latin-rite Catholicism?

  30. David Eddyshaw says

    Opus Dei made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. (You know how it is.)

    They have long had their sights on Language Hat, as one of the few remaining obstacles to their total world domination.

    (What’s “Bwahahahaha!” in Latin?)

    Akismet has been exorcised. All comments henceforward will require an Imprimatur and a Nihil Obstat.

  31. David Marjanović says

    Roman or Ambrosian rite?

    Akismet has been exorcised.

    A silver lining…

    BTW, after yesterday’s pessimism, here’s some optimism to provide some healthy emotional whiplash. 🙂

  32. Does anyone have an actual example of “my work here is done” from the Lone Ranger?

    I’ve been looking, and I can’t find any. Which doesn’t mean there aren’t any out there.

    As for the origin of the ironic use, my vote would be for the closing scene of Mel Brook’s 1973 “Blazing Saddles,” where Sheriff Bart (played by Cleavon Little), utters the line. Of course, this usage is echoing the Lone Ranger.

  33. Another character says this about him:
    “He’s gone, Dad; he never stays around once his work is done.”

  34. Which is related, but of course not the same thing.

  35. Quite right. I mentioned that in case it was said about him, but recalled as if he said it.

  36. Good point.

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