Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Language of Work & Labor

A new glossary takes a look at the language and etymology of the words we use to talk about jobs and work.

"The Wage Slave's Glossary" by Joshua Glenn and Mark Kingwell is a guide to the language of labor. Though it includes a collection of interesting new words, like "cube farm" and "work-life balance," what I found to be most interesting were some of the older words.
For example, the word "downtime." It was a mid-century term that meant time when a machine is out of action or unavailable for use. And today, of course, this means that human beings who aren't working are compared to machines that being serviced, or robots that are being recharged. And the worst thing of all, is that many of us now use "downtime" to describe our own weekends and vacations.
There used to be a term in the 18th century called the "after-dinner man," which was somebody who went back to work after they'd eaten their dinner. And of course at the time, that was considered a very strange thing to do -- dinner time's when you're supposed to be done with work, why would you go back? Either you're unhealthily addicted to work or you have too much of it. And of course today, we're all after-dinner men and we think nothing of the people who open their laptop after dinner and finishing up a Powerpoint or sending out some work emails.
Finally, apparently the word "boss" actually comes from Dutch plantations? A "work boss" was somebody who was the overseer of the slaves on the plantation, but now the word has come to mean "A person in charge of a worker or organization."

Though I haven't actually read the book, the interview with one of the authors and the excerpt on the American Public Media website has piqued my interest. I may just have to check it out!

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