(I can) work with it – idiom

Sobakus

Senior Member
American English has this typical can-do expression, which expresses readiness to take on a potentially difficult task in order to make something better out of a situation that's sub-optimal.

The expression seems to originate in the language of artisans, who, upon seeing the material they were supposed to work with, would either take up the job or refuse it outright, fearing that their best effort would still result in subpar quality. I can work with this was then taken up as an idiomatic phrase that means “I will not complain and do whatever is necessary to produce a decent result by getting around the limitations”, and more generally “I can handle this situation”. It can also be used as an imperative, e.g. Whatever happens in life, find a way to work with it, which means “find a way to overcome whatever difficulties and limitations life presents you with”. If someone's complaining about some obstacle, you can say: “Stop complaining and work with it!” Here the expression is used in the sense of finding a work-around for a cognitive bias.​
The expression is idiomatic, i.e. its meaning is not the sum of its parts, but work here has both the connotations of “doing the job” as well “shaping, fashioning a material”, and these connotations contribute to the meaning of the idiom. Compare the closely related idiom I can live with it; also compare the even more closely related, obligation-taking I'll work with her meaning “I'll try and get her to cooperate with me, find a common ground with her”. Very similar is the expression to go with it.
The opposite expression is to work against it, meaning “to try and get your way and create even more difficulties for yourself; to be stubborn”.​

Does your language have a comparable idiom for 1) expressing readiness in taking on an obligation, or 2) making the best of one's situation? Not necessarily using a verb for working or shaping, but something figurative at least. I expect that a literal translation from English won't make much sense in most languages.

Russian doesn't seem to have such an expression for either; one can say С таки́м X (невоз)мо́жно рабо́тать “It's (im)possible to work/do the job with such an X”, but this is in no way idiomatic; it cannot be used of life difficulties, cognitive biases etc., and you cannot use it to signal readiness and ability, “I can handle this”. For the latter you would say Я (с э́тим) спра́влюсь “I will handle (it)”; with limitations in general, one could employ обойти́ (пробле́му) lit. “to walk around the problem”, найти́ вы́ход “to find an exit, i.e. a solution”, or приспосо́биться “to adapt oneself”.​

Italian doesn't seem to have such idioms either; I've found posso adattarmi, posso farmelo andar bene, tanto/questo mi può bastare, which are similar to Russian.​
My question is based on this thread, where OP offers another explanation of the intended meaning:
If there are difficulties in life, work with them. If there is a knot in the wood, perhaps the carpenter can "work with it" and make it part of the piece […] the knot is something that is seemingly an imperfection, obstacle, or difficulty-- yet instead of giving up, one learns to "Work with it."
 
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  • pimlicodude

    Senior Member
    British English
    American English has this typical can-do expression, which expresses readiness to take on a potentially difficult task in order to make something better out of a situation that's sub-optimal.

    The expression seems to originate in the language of artisans, who, upon seeing the material they were supposed to work with, would either take up the job or refuse it outright, fearing that their best effort would still result in subpar quality. I can work with this was then taken up as an idiomatic phrase that means “I will not complain and do whatever is necessary to produce a decent result by getting around the limitations”, and more generally “I can handle this situation”. It can also be used as an imperative, e.g. Whatever happens in life, find a way to work with it, which means “find a way to overcome whatever difficulties and limitations life presents you with”. If someone's complaining about some obstacle, you can say: “Stop complaining and work with it!” Here the expression is used in the sense of finding a work-around for a cognitive bias.​
    The expression is idiomatic, i.e. its meaning is not the sum of its parts, but work here has both the connotations of “doing the job” as well “shaping, fashioning a material”, and these connotations contribute to the meaning of the idiom. Compare the closely related idiom I can live with it; also compare the even more closely related, obligation-taking I'll work with her meaning “I'll try and get her to cooperate with me, find a common ground with her”. Very similar is the expression to go with it.
    The opposite expression is to work against it, meaning “to try and get your way and create even more difficulties for yourself; to be stubborn”.​

    Does your language have a comparable idiom for 1) expressing readiness in taking on an obligation, or 2) making the best of one's situation? Not necessarily using a verb for working or shaping, but something figurative at least. I expect that a literal translation from English won't make much sense in most languages.

    Russian doesn't seem to have such an expression for either; one can say С таки́м X (невоз)мо́жно рабо́тать “It's (im)possible to work/do the job with such an X”, but this is in no way idiomatic; it cannot be used of life difficulties, cognitive biases etc., and you cannot use it to signal readiness and ability, “I can handle this”. For the latter you would say Я (с э́тим) спра́влюсь “I will handle (it)”; with limitations in general, one could employ обойти́ (пробле́му) lit. “to walk around the problem”, найти́ вы́ход “to find an exit, i.e. a solution”, or приспосо́биться “to adapt oneself”.​

    Italian doesn't seem to have such idioms either; I've found posso adattarmi, posso farmelo andar bene, tanto/questo mi può bastare, which are similar to Russian.​
    My question is based on this thread, where OP offers another explanation of the intended meaning:
    Sobakus, what about the reflexive обойтись с. Maybe this is more "get by with" something, but in some limited contexts it might be nearly equivalent to "working with it"??
     

    Sobakus

    Senior Member
    Sobakus, what about the reflexive обойтись с. Maybe this is more "get by with" something, but in some limited contexts it might be nearly equivalent to "working with it"??
    This means something quite different and there's in fact four different expressions conflated here.
    • обойти́сь “to get by” doesn't take a preposition, but is either used with an Instrumental object, or without one: обойти́сь карто́шкой “to get by with just potatoes”, ничего́, обойдёмся “it's fine, we'll do with what we have; we'll do without it”;
    • обойти́сь ка́к-то с че́м-то with an inanimate prep. object means “to treat, handle something in some sort of way”, and with an animate object с ке́м-то it means “to treat, handle someone in some sort of way; to show a person good/bad/humane/etc. treatment”. The animate use is much more common.
    The first usage resembles the expressions to live with it, to do with/without something, i.e. it's about passively managing, getting through somehow (or even passive-agressively: обойдёшься! in reply to a request is almost the verbal equivalent of a middle finger); while I'm looking to express an active, can-do attitude.
     
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    nizzebro

    Senior Member
    Russian
    Я (с э́тим) спра́влюсь “I will handle (it)”;
    And also я возьмусь за это (I'm on it), as the ingressive version.
    And yet there is indeed nothing that would express being sustained in process, in the sense of constant patience and self-control. Seems like it shows what kind of people we are :)
    There is also Буду работать с тем, что есть (will work with what I have) - but, it is only a partial correlation.
     
    Τhe Greek colloquial expression is «θα την παλέψω» [ˌθa.tiɱ.ba.ˈle̞.p͡s̠o̞] --> lit. I'll ɡrapple her, meaninɡ I'll duke it out, strive for somethinɡ.
    The weak 3rd person sinɡular feminine pronoun «την» stands for the implied situation, case, state which are feminine in MoGr.
    The verb «παλέψω» is in future tense, in the present tense is «παλεύω» [pa.ˈle̞.vo̞] and it's a denominative from the feminine noun «πάλη» [ˈpa.li] --> (sport) wrestlinɡ, metaph. struɡɡle, fiɡht, ɡrapple, scuffle < Classical feminine noun «πάλη» pắlē --> wrestlinɡ, fiɡht, a deverbative form the Classical v. «πάλλω» pắllō.

    The exact opposite expression is equally used, «δεν την παλεύω» [ˌðe̞ŋ.diɱ.ba.ˈle̞.vo̞] --> lit. I can't ɡrapple her (the case, situation), metaph. it's over, I'm done, Ι can't fiɡht it more, it implies surrender, capitulation.
     

    Sobakus

    Senior Member
    @apmoy70 That's a nice and culturally revealing metaphor, what with the wrestling schools and all. Is it also used in imperatives and moralistic precepts to overcome life difficulties and specific imperfections and limitations? Also, does this expression imply assiduousness and patience, or is it rather about coming out on top, achieving the goal? If it's the latter, is there a less combative expression?
     
    ^^Α less combative expression is «θα τα βγάλω πέρα» [ˌθa.t̠a.ˈvɣa.lo̞.ˈpe̞.ɾa] --> lit. I'll pull them throuɡh; the weak 3rd person plural neuter pronoun «τα» [t̠a] stands for the implied affairs, things. The verb is the future form of the present tense verb «βγάζω» [ˈvɣa.zo̞] --> to take out, take off, remove, draw, pull, deliver, pluck < Late Byz. v. «ἐβγάζω» evgázō, after syncope, and subsequent metathesis, of the earlier Byz. verb «ἐγβιβάζω» egbibázō < Classical v. «ἐκβιβάζω» ĕkbĭbázō --> to make to go or come out, carry out, a compound: Prefix and preposition «ἐκ/ἐξ» ĕk (before consonant)/ ĕks (before vowel) --> out (PIE *h₁eǵʰ-s- out cf Lat. ex) + alt. present causative «βιβάζω» bĭbázō, of v. «βαίνω» baínō --> to go, step out (PIE *gʷem- to go cf Skt. गच्छति (gacchati), to go, pass; Lat. venīre > It. venire, Sp./Fr. venir, Por. vir, Rom. veni/venire, Alb. vij).
    Its opposite «δεν τα βγάζω πέρα» [ˌðe̞ŋ.da.ˈvɣa.zo̞.ˈpe̞.ɾa] --> I can't pull them through is also very common.
     
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