A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006. Now a Popeye's fast food restaurant on Google Maps.

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Entry from June 02, 2019
“Working hard or hardly working?”

"Working hard or hardly working?” is something a boss might ask of an employee, and the saying has been printed on many images. “Working hard” is the opposite of “hardly working.”

The expression has been cited in print since at least 1937. “Working hard or hardly working” was printed in the Paducah (KY) Sun-Democrat on April 16, 1937. “PET PEEVE: I wish there was a cure for the bird who always greets you with ‘How you doin’, working hard or hardly working?’” was printed in the Beaumont (TX) Journal on May 4, 1937.


16 April 1937, Paducah (KY) Sun-Democrat, pg. 4, col. 1 ad:
Mr. Consumer, I don’t know whether you are working hard or hardly working, neither do I know what condition your stomach is in, but I do know how to protect you from old Hy Price.
(Poor-Boy butcher.—ed.)

4 May 1937, Beaumont (TX) Journal, Bill Beaumont column, pg. 4, col. 4:
PET PEEVE: I wish there was a cure for the bird who always greets you with “How you doin’, working hard or hardly working?” People don’t realize how stupid and asinine it really sounds.

5 April 1951, Decatur (AL) Daily, “Those Wisecrackers” (editorial), pg. 4, col. 1:
“Are you working hard or hardly working?” Yak-yak!

19 July 1953, The News and Observer (Raleigh, NC), pt. 4, pg. 4, col. 5:
Other over-worked native phrases are “some kind of,” “are you working hard or hardly working,” “don’t hardly,” “I’ve got news for you,” “That’s all she wrote,” ‘I’ll be damned if that’s so,” etc., etc.
(...)
DEANE MORRISON
Rocky Mount.

Google Books
Adolescent Suicide
By Jerry Jacobs
New York, NY: Wiley-Interscience
1971
Pg. 90:
... “working hard or hardly working?”, and you know better than to say very much about things they’re interested in or concerned about.

OCLC WorldCat record
Working hard or hardly working? an examination of children’s household contributions in the 1990s
Author: Victoria Chapman
Publisher: 1994.
Dissertation: Ph. D. Princeton University 1994
Edition/Format: Thesis/dissertation : Thesis/dissertation : Manuscript Archival Material : English

OCLC WorldCat record
Working hard, or hardly working? : predicting group, individual, and project effectiveness at work
Author: Adam M Grant
Publisher: 2003.
Dissertation: A.B., Honors in Psychology Harvard University 2003
Edition/Format: Thesis/dissertation : Thesis/dissertation : Manuscript Archival Material : English

OCLC WorldCat record
Government Employees Working Hard or Hardly Working?
Author: Sue A Frank Affiliation: Georgia State University and Georgia Institute of Technology; Gregory B Lewis Affiliation: Georgia State University
Edition/Format: Article Article : English
Publication: The American Review of Public Administration, v34 n1 (200403): 36-51

Urban Dictionary
working hard or hardly working
Funny play on words used by successful management types. Can be combined with finger guns for the ultimate combo.
Supervisor: Hey Joe! Working hard or hardly working? Hahahaha.
Joe: Hahahahaha! You’re the best boss ever!

#work#fun#awesome#hardly working#lazy
by dunderscott January 04, 2010

Google Books
The Truth About Winning at Work (Collection)
By Stephen P. Robbins, Martha I. Finney, James O’Rourke and William S. Kane
FT Press
2013
Pg. ?:
But somehow this joke experiences a magical rebirth with every new generation of managers who think they’re amusing: The manager walks by an employee deeply concentrating on work and says, “You working hard? Or hardly working?”

OCLC WorldCat record
Working hard or hardly working? People claim they’re putting in more time at their jobs than even before, leading to an epidemic of overwork. Turns out we toil a lot less than we think
Publisher: Toronto, Canada : Maclean Pub. Co.
Edition/Format: Article Article : English
Publication: Maclean’s. 127, no. 18, (May 12, 2014): 34

Twitter
Mike Obrien
@Lordmoncler
People who ask “working hard or hardly working” deserve the guillitone
11:33 AM - 2 Jun 2019

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityWork/Businesses • Sunday, June 02, 2019 • Permalink