Hunger Wall was a fortification project which had questionable strategical importance, but it allowed anyone to work there for food thus avoiding famine without handouts(might not be 100% historically accurate, but that's where the idiom comes from).

It is used as an euphemism for a work, which was only created for the purpose of employing people. The work itself doesn't necessarily have to to be boring or repetitive and I intentionally avoid the term "job", because it might be referring to a work you assign to your employees when you're in between paying customer projects and you don't want to lay off staff.

Up until recently I thought this term can be used in English, but apparently it's only used in Czech language.

Is there some similar idiom which is used in English? I guess I could say something like "useless work", but I'm looking for something more fitting and a little bit more punch.

  • 4
    "useless work" is often described as "make work" in English. Commented May 17, 2019 at 12:53
  • i know of no phrases or idioms, but is a historical period of such in the US history
    – lbf
    Commented May 17, 2019 at 15:00
  • Can the work also be of practical use even if the reason for creating it was just to provide employment?
    – S Conroy
    Commented May 18, 2019 at 20:45
  • It’s not to provide work, it’s to provide food. I’d call it a “work for food” program—nothing specifically comparable in English.
    – Xanne
    Commented May 19, 2019 at 9:45

3 Answers 3


The expression I’m familiar with is busy work:

Busy work (also referred to as make-work and busywork) can refer to activity that is undertaken to pass time and stay busy but in and of itself has no actual value.


Although I have heard it most used for work given in a school setting, it can be used for any worthless work.

For example:

The Scientific Reason Why Your Boss Gives You Busy Work

[The CheatSheet]

  • A link from your definition leads to another one that might be useful: workfare.
    – S Conroy
    Commented May 18, 2019 at 0:30
  • 1
    You've treated "make-work" and "busywork" as synonyms, but I'd argue there's a distinction. As your links indicate, "busywork" refers to pointless tasks that are given to workers who are already employed, or to students, to keep them occupied. This doesn't quite fit the idea of work that was "created only for the purpose of employing people," though it could in fact be used for "work you assign to your employees when you're in between paying customer projects and you don't want to lay off staff." "Make-work" on the other hand, fits both situations.
    – Nanigashi
    Commented May 18, 2019 at 0:50

Such schemes became popular on both sides of the Atlantic during the 1930s depression. They were a pre-Keynsian attempt at stimulating the economy, and were central to Roosevelt's New Deal, following his election in 1932.

The largest US examples were in the field of dams and irrigation such as the Tennessee Valley Authority Scheme and the Colorado River scheme. They were known collectively as Public Works Administration.

In Britain I am fairly sure they were called Public Works Projects. and mostly comprised building roads and low-cost housing (council houses).

  • This doesn't seem like a very good answer, as public works projects aren't of questionable practical value by definition. (For example, the TVA brought electricity to many millions of people who wouldn't have had it otherwise.)
    – Nanigashi
    Commented May 18, 2019 at 0:23

"Make-work project" is sometimes used in more or less the way you describe.

"The make-work project that is Canada’s 'safety profession' does only two things. First, it creates more government jobs – making another Hoover Dam out of rules and red tape. And second, it impedes the ability of competent construction professionals to carry out basic, albeit risky tasks." https://www.canadiancontractor.ca/voices/canadas-safety-profession-make-work-project/

(Of course, I'm not suggesting that Canada's safety profession doesn't provide a useful service; the point is that this writer is using the term "make-work project" to advance such a claim.)

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