In a word: job

March 16, 2013|By John E. McIntyre | The Baltimore Sun

Each week The Sun's John McIntyre presents a relatively obscure but evocative word with which you may not be familiar, another brick to add to the wall of your working vocabulary. This week's word:

JOB

The week's nearly expired and I still owe you a word. 

While we generally visit mildly exotic words here, some of the ordinary one have a Past, and such is job

You may think that having a job is a grand thing, and those of us who have at one point or another would agree heartily. But a job used to be something a little unsavory.

In the sixteenth century, a job was a quantity, a cartload, the amount that could be carried by a horse and cart at one time. It easily developed from there to describe a piece of work. By the eighteenth century it was criminal slang for a crime. 

In time it also came to be a label for a transaction in which the public interest is sacrificed for a personal advantage. It is in that sense that you may have heard the word in Gilbert and Sullivan's Trial by Jury, in which the judge confesses that his elevation to the bench was "managed by a job." In fact, he confesses, "It is patent to the mob, / That my being made a nob / Was effected by a job."

The chorus, as always, chimes in: "And a good job too!"

Job this sense is also called jobbery. And jobber, from the seventeenth century into the eighteenth, was a term for a dealer on a stock exchange, suggesting that at that time stock market transactions were thought to be of dubious probity. Imagine.

Now back to work.

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