I'm reading Jon Gertner's The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation. In describing the history of the telephone, Gertner describes Thomas Edison (whose inventions helped improve transmitting voices) with:

Edison usually worked eighteen hours a day or longer, pushing for weeks on end, ignoring family obligations, taking meals at his desk, refusing to pause for sleep or showers.

This perseverance reminded me of a personality in David Kushner's history of software company id in Masters of Doom. It cites game engine designer John Carmack as saying:

If you want to set off and go develop some grand new thing, you don't need millions of dollars of capitalization. You need enough pizza and Diet Coke to stick in your refrigerator, a cheap PC to work on, and the dedication to go through with it. We slept on floors. We waded across rivers.

I recall the book also having an anecdote where Carmack's co-workers test his resolve. They play a movie at high volume while Carmack is working. After turning around briefly to see what's going on, Carmack continues his work as before. And throughout the book Carmack puts that kind of effort into every project he attempts.

I would like a noun that captures more intensity than hard worker. There are hard workers and then there are very devoted workers, who may agree with Gustave Flaubert's quote:

L'homme n'est rien, l'oeuvre – tout [which translates to] The man is nothing, the work - all

At the same time I would like the noun to be respectful, if not praise the subject for their industry. For this reason I'd like to avoid workaholic, which has a compulsory and involuntary aspect to it, as shown in this WebMD quote from Are You a Workaholic?:

But for workaholics, the day of rest never comes. There is always one more email to read, one more phone call to take, one more critically important trip to the office that can't wait until Monday.

Weekends? Holidays? Family? As the uber-workaholic Ebenezer Scrooge put it, "Bah, humbug!"

Similarly, busy bee is not serious enough for my situation.

The word I like most so far is workhorse, defined by MW to be:

a dependable person who does a lot of work

Unfortunately I am drawn to think of being overworked to the point of injury, such as Black Beauty, who "collapses from overwork," or Boxer in Animal Farm, who "[despite] his injuries... continues working harder and harder, until he collapses while working on the windmill."

Is there a complimentary, respectful, or more neutral noun to describe a really hard worker?

  • 1
    @EdwinAshworth: Those are adjectives. I'm looking for a noun or noun-phrase, like workaholic, busy bee, or workhorse.
    – user39720
    Commented Oct 7, 2014 at 23:39
  • 1
    FWIW, googling for slacker antonym just pointed to hard worker. You might find a single word that means specifically what you are asking (a respectful term for a very hard worker), but you might not.
    – Drew
    Commented Oct 8, 2014 at 0:19
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    This is perhaps not very common, but I've heard "He is a force of nature" as a compliment. It is generally said in awe at the subject's prodigious skills or output. More colloquially, one may refer to such a coworker as (a) beast (works as both noun and adjective). Commented Oct 8, 2014 at 4:51
  • 1
    You could also describe Edison and Carmack as being overly obsessed about their work, which they clearly enjoy. I think that someone who has to hold down two jobs for financial reasons is a harder worker.
    – JenSCDC
    Commented Oct 8, 2014 at 9:53
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    I find it a little telling that there's no true single word for the opposite of a workaholic. Could it be that in the English-speaking culture, someone who works too hard is just suspect? To my knowledge at least 'workaphiliac' is not an official word.
    – Nobilis
    Commented Oct 8, 2014 at 15:58

19 Answers 19


A person who works extremely hard in every way can be called a Trojan:

Trojan 1 n.

  1. A person of courageous determination or energy. AHDEL

Trojan n

  1. a person who is hard-working and determined [Collins]

The metaphor seems to be derived from the phrase 'worked like a Trojan'. From The Phrase Finder:


"Trojan originally referred to the inhabitants of Troy, the ancient city besieged by the Greeks in their efforts to retrieve their queen, Helen, who had been abducted by the son of the King of Troy. According to legend, as recorded in both Vergil's 'Aeneid' and Homer's 'Illiad,' the Trojans were a hard-working, determined, industrious people. Hence: 'He worked like a Trojan.' " From "Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins" by William and Mary Morris....

In a far less formal register, in Britain the term grafter is almost always taken as a real compliment; both the following definitions from Collins English Dictionary:

grafter noun

(British, informal) a hard worker [: Fred's a real grafter]

but not in the US:

grafter noun

(informal) a person who acquires money, power, etc, by dishonest or unfair means, esp by taking advantage of a position of trust

  • 1
    Considering Trojan is often associated with infiltration and malicious intent (thanks to the Trojan Horse and, more recently, trojan viruses), I suspect use of this term even with the intent of respect would be met with confusion and require clarification to avoid offense.
    – talrnu
    Commented Oct 8, 2014 at 13:27
  • If the person's as good as OP says, I doubt this. Commented Oct 8, 2014 at 13:31
  • 2
    I like the direction this is headed. (If I were asked "Like the Trojan horse?" I would remind the asker that the horse was not from the Trojans but from their enemies the Greeks, hence Beware of Greeks bearing gifts.) I'm interested in finding out more, especially what in particular the Trojans did to earn such an honor. I think this is what I'm looking for; I'll accept tomorrow!
    – user39720
    Commented Oct 8, 2014 at 21:31

Someone who is more than just a hard worker can be described as persevering:

To persist in or remain constant to a purpose, idea, or task in the face of obstacles or discouragement. The three great essentials to achieve anything worthwhile are, first, hard work; second, stick-to-itiveness; third, common sense. ― Thomas A. Edison I do not think that there is any other quality so essential to success of any kind as the quality of perseverance. It overcomes almost everything, even nature. - John D. Rockefeller


having, compelled by, or ruled by intense emotion or strong feeling; fervid; zealous. I have no special talents. I am passionately curious. -Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955) When natural inclination develops into a passionate desire, one advances towards his goal in seven-league boots. - Nikola Tesla I think I overcame every single one of my personal shortcomings by the sheer passion I brought to my work. I don’t know if you’re born with this kind of passion, or if you can learn it. But I do know you need it. - Sam Walton


Controlled behavior resulting from disciplinary training; self-control. Does thou love life? Then do not squander time; for that’s the stuff life is made of. - Ben Franklin Things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle. - Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) In reading the lives of great men, I found that the first victory they won was over themselves… self-discipline with all of them came first. - Harry S. Truman (1884-1972)


Wholly committed to a particular course of thought or action; devoted. It is rather for us here dedicated to the great task remaining before us, that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion. - Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)


Filled with or motivated by zeal; fervent. Allowing only ordinary ability and opportunity, we may explain success mainly by one word and that word is WORK! WORK!! WORK!!! WORK!!!! - Frederick Douglass (1818-1895)

ardent: Displaying or characterized by strong enthusiasm or devotion; fervent.

syn: perseverance, persistence, tenacity imply determined continuance in a state or in a course of action. perseverance suggests effort maintained in spite of difficulties or long-continued application; it is used in a favorable sense: The scientist's perseverance finally paid off in a coveted prize. persistence, which may be used in a favorable or unfavorable sense, implies steadfast, unremitting continuance in spite of opposition or protest: an annoying persistence in a belief. tenacity is a dogged and determined holding on: the stubborn tenacity of a salesman. (TFD)

  • 1
    Dayum! You wanted a noun? Sorry. :( Commented Oct 7, 2014 at 23:46
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    "Disciple" works as a noun. It carries a heavy religious connotation that is likely to emphasize the point without being taken literally as pertaining to religion.
    – TecBrat
    Commented Oct 8, 2014 at 15:53
  • @TecBrat A disciple is a follower of someone, it doesn't refer to someone having discipline in a field.
    – Barmar
    Commented Oct 13, 2014 at 17:58
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    @Barmar I know the literal meaning, but if you use it in context, I'm sure it will make the point, similar to "Zealot" mentioned elsewhere.
    – TecBrat
    Commented Oct 13, 2014 at 18:13
  • I guess I'd have to see the context to judge. But I think I would find it confusing -- "disciple of who?"
    – Barmar
    Commented Oct 13, 2014 at 18:16

Perhaps diligent:


  1. constant in effort to accomplish something; attentive and persistent in doing anything.
  2. done or pursued with persevering attention; painstaking.


Edit: In light of the updated question, some more options include achiever:

achiever (one who achieves), i.e.

  1. to bring to a successful end; carry through; accomplish
  2. to get or attain by effort; gain; obtain


Or man of action:

man of action:

  1. A person who prefers to act rather than contemplate and gets things accomplished quickly an efficiently.


The latter does have connotations of the "shoot first, ask questions later" type, however.

'Nother edit: thanks to medica's suggestion, I found a definition for high achiever:

high achiever:

  1. a person who achieves more than the average person in their work

Cambridge Business English Dictionary - Cambridge Dictionaries Online

  • +1, diligent is a good word, but I'm looking for a label or noun. I've edited my question to reflect that.
    – user39720
    Commented Oct 7, 2014 at 22:35
  • +1 - for achiever... but above that is high achiever (no help there) then over-achiever (negative). Commented Oct 8, 2014 at 2:18
  • Please note that where you quote from someone else's work, you must cite the source in plain text [a link is not enough] and use > quoting to indicate its extent. SE policy
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Oct 8, 2014 at 6:24

A trooper would fit. A trooper is a soldier, but the term is often used colloquially to mean someone who works hard, or is persevering.

Jane is a real trooper she stayed in all weekend to get the report done by monday.

Also a team-player. A team-player is someone who works for the good of the team.

Jim is a great team-player, he changed his lunch plans so he could help out at a critical meeting we had.


Workhorse could fit. It's not necessarily positive, but it isn't negative either.

  • This was the only noun I could think of that really matched, and I think you nailed its tone: neutral. In the right context, it can definitely be positive.
    – Jaydles
    Commented Oct 8, 2014 at 13:08
  • It could imply someone with little skill, but lots of determination, but that's not necessarily bad. Commented Oct 8, 2014 at 16:27

You asked for a noun but oddly, most of the answers above seem to be adjectives. May I suggest a stalwart. This is positive, despite appearances, and seems to have pretty universally gone from meaning strong, courageous, and persevering to meaning someone who is the backbone of some operation.

  • It is not work-related. It does not describe a hard worker.
    – Drew
    Commented Oct 8, 2014 at 0:07
  • It certainly can describe a hard worker. In fact, I think it's most often used for that purpose. See these links for example, which describe retiring professors, caretakers and mechanics. sun.ac.za/english/Lists/news/DispForm.aspx?ID=1391 wnsc.ac.uk/2014/09/college-stalwart-retires-after-24-years vertumotors.com/news/…
    – Dan
    Commented Oct 8, 2014 at 0:13
  • 1
    Of course it can describe a hard worker if you say that the person is a stalwart at work or at working. And that is how those articles use it. Stalwart means strong, dependable, or loyal. Nothing in the definition of stalwart implies that the stalwart is a strong, dependable, or loyal worker.
    – Drew
    Commented Oct 8, 2014 at 0:17
  • I think you're right.
    – Dan
    Commented Oct 8, 2014 at 0:19
  • I've never seen stalwart used as a noun. (Just commenting on that fact)
    – TylerH
    Commented Oct 8, 2014 at 19:22

A hard worker might be described as a Stakhanovite:-

an efficient worker, esp in the former Soviet Union, who may be offered incentives [Collins English Dictionary]


a worker in the Soviet Union who regularly surpassed production quotas and was specially honored and rewarded. [Random House Dictionary via Dictionary.com]

  • Also Boxer the Horse in Animal Farm...
    – Ben
    Commented Oct 8, 2014 at 16:01
  • The original Stakhanov was, I believe, glorified under Stalin as a model worker. The great early 1980s band Magazine (headed by Howard Devoto, previously of Buzzcocks) has a sarcastic aspirational song called "Model Worker."
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented Oct 8, 2014 at 21:18
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    This word might be considered offensive in Eastern Europe.
    – silvo
    Commented Oct 9, 2014 at 4:39

I've described such people before as machines.

1. an apparatus consisting of interrelated parts with separate functions, used in the performance of some kind of work.

Source: Dictionary.com

It's a bit slang in this context, and can be taken to be derogatory for it's dehumanizing connotation. However, I've only personally used it and heard it used in admiration, as in someone who can work hard for long hours without rest or breaks typically afforded to the human workforce.

Joe just pulled his third all-nighter this week. The guy is a machine.

Expanding on that theme, similar terms with the same connotation are (also from Dictionary.com):

1. an automaton in the form of a human being.


1. a person whose physiological functioning is aided by or dependent upon a mechanical or electronic device.

That doesn't capture the flavor very closely. The exact usage has a closer connotation to

2. Informal. having superhuman strength or capacity.


An innocuous and an informal noun would be eager beaver.

  • one that is exceptionally, often excessively industrious or zealous

  • a person who displays conspicuous diligence, esp one who volunteers for extra work


You can consider go-getter also.

a person who works very hard and who wants very much to succeed



Workaholic might fit, but that really means someone who works a lot, not necessarily someone who works hard or well. It suggests a compulsion to work.

  • The question specifically says the OP would like to avoid the term workaholic.
    – Frank H.
    Commented Oct 8, 2014 at 7:23

To capture the person's drive and determination, Workhorse (or warhorse) seem the best among the possibilities thrown up, but trooper or dynamo are pretty good too (and yeoman might do, but yeoing is an archaic and forgotten line of work). Related to trooper, you could also use soldier, indeed its gerund seems almost perfect for the context: soldiering on.

See what Jagger-Richards say about "the common footsoldier" in "Salt of the Earth"


While not a noun, there is the phrase on a mission that describes the qualities of the actor

Being on a mission refers to acting in a determined way and so focus in doing something that he/she is oblivious of anything else around him/her


The expression He is a man on a mission is used to describe someone who is driven to complete his objective. The phrease has a neutral to positive tone.




The definition includes the idiomatic use:

yeoman's work:

very good, hard, and valuable work that someone does especially to support a cause, to help a team, etc.

Which, I realize, is not strictly a synonym for the doer of the the work, but which is unequivocally flattering.


Just skimming all of these it sounds like dynamo fits all the requirements and doesn't violate the anti-requirements.


Diligence (n.) mid-14c., from Old French diligence "attention, care; haste, speed," from Latin diligentia "attentiveness, carefulness," from diligentem (nominative diligens) "attentive, assiduous, careful," originally present participle of diligere "single out, value highly, esteem, prize, love; aspire to, be content with, appreciate," originally "to pick out, select," from dis- "apart" (see dis-) + legere "choose, gather" (see lecture (n.)).

Sense evolved from "love" through "attentiveness" to "carefulness" to "steady effort." From the secondary French sense comes the old useage of diligence for "public stage coach" (1742; dilly for short), from a French shortening of carrosse de diligence.

Grinder (n.) the meaning "hard-working student" is American English slang from 1864. The sense "steady, hard work" first recorded 1851 in college student slang.

Student/Studious (n.) 14c. (implied in studiously) "zealous, diligent, eager," from Latin studiosus "devoted to study, assiduous, zealous," from studium "eagerness, zeal" (see study). From late 14c. as "eager to learn, devoted to learning," also, as noun, "those who study or read diligently." Related: Studiousness.


  • all definitions are from etymonline.com Commented Oct 8, 2014 at 22:53
  • You should edit your answer to put the citation in it.
    – Theresa
    Commented Oct 8, 2014 at 22:58

Dynamo, fireball, firebrand, go-getter

  • Welcome to EL&U. Your answer would be improved by providing examples and/or more detailed explanation, including links to dictionaries and other relevant references. The help center will provide additional guidance.
    – choster
    Commented Oct 9, 2014 at 14:07

Does salaryman describe it?

A few snippets from the Wikipedia definition:

... has gradually become accepted in English-speaking countries as a noun for a Japanese white-collar businessman... In modern use, the term carries associations of long working hours... The following are stereotypical images of the salaryman:

  • Lifestyle revolves entirely around work at the office.
  • Works over-time on a daily basis.
  • Diligent but unoriginal.
  • Thoroughly obedient to orders from the higher levels of the company.

There are other parts of the definition that don't conform to, and in some cases even conflict with, the description in your question (for example, karoshi - death from overwork) but depending on the context, salaryman might possibly convey the meaning you intend.

  • Those first two bulletpoints are excellent. The third is not what I intend. I regard Edison and Carmack as very original. But +1, since I've seen several definitions for salaryman containing "long hours". The time spent working is an important factor of what I'm looking for.
    – user39720
    Commented Oct 7, 2014 at 23:54
  • So you are looking only for a white-collar or salaried worker? Say so in your question, if so. If not, the answer does not fit workers in general.
    – Drew
    Commented Oct 8, 2014 at 0:08
  • Isn't it a bit harsh to downvote an answer because of a shortcoming in the question? I pointed out the ways in which salaryman might and might not fit the definition, and also mentioned that it depended on the context.
    – Frank H.
    Commented Oct 8, 2014 at 7:32

One of your examples describes a hard-worker in a software development setting. This is creative work, and often working hard is not the goal. In a more creative work setting a prodigious coder is great because she can solve hard problems quickly. In that context sui generis can fit well. From Merriam Webster:

constituting a class alone

In other words, this person is so damn good that he is head an shoulders above his peers.

While Webster gives the definition of sui generis as an adjective, Wikibooks describes the phrase as an abstract noun.


noun: juggernaut; plural noun: juggernauts

a huge, powerful, and overwhelming force or institution.
"a juggernaut of secular and commercial culture"

tour de force
ˌto͝or də ˈfôrs/
noun: tour de force; plural noun: tours de force

an impressive performance or achievement that has been accomplished or managed with great skill.
"his novel is a tour de force"
synonyms: triumph, masterpiece, achievement, success, masterful performance, magnum opus

[From Google definition]