Saturday, December 5, 2009

Sailor Mouth Saturday: Job

Well we all have a job, don't we? Kids have school, carpenters have carpentry, nurses have nursing, politicians have lying, even the unemployed and "domestic engineers" have stuff to do. But why do we call it a job? Glad you asked.

Job comes from the Saxon word "job". Saxons were pretty straight forward guys and gals. Unlike their Celtic neighbors, who felt the need to spell everything with two l's, three n's and a y, the Saxons eschewed "bonus" letters. If English were more like Saxon, I wouldn't have to rely so heavily on spell check. Anyway, that was it: j*o*b, pronounced like it sounds and meaning nothing more than a specific task someone would be set to. It had none of the overarching "this is what I do everyday" inference that the modern word entails. Your job might be watching the geese one day and thatching the barn the next. And that is the meaning that came down to the navy and merchant service in Britain.

Aboard ship a "job" was a stipulated work such as swab the deck or take in the foremast top-gallant sails. Cook, for instance, did not consider being a cook his "job". Making supper was his evening job. His title was cook.

In fact job began to have some rather unflattering overtones during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. For instance, a job Captain was one who basically temps aboard another Captain's ship. This happened frequently during the blockades involved in the Napoleonic wars, the War of 1812 and even into the Civil War in the U.S. Generally a job Captain was substituting for a man who had other business by land such as a seat in Parliament or Congress or similar issues. Because the pay scale for job Captains was low and they were notorious for harsh discipline, they rarely gained their temporary crew's respect and, in consequence, rarely found a permanent gig.

Perhaps because of the job Captain stigma, the word jobation arose. This meant a harsh lecture or reprimand from a superior that, though given in private, was a general embarrassment to the officer receiving it. Both Thomas Cochrane of the Royal Navy and David Porter of the American version, contemporaries and equally controversial in their respective service, wrote disdainfully of uncalled for "jobations" they had received.

The seafaring term eventually made it's way to land in the late 19th century and was used to mean gainful employment, especially by immigrants to the U.S. who had probably heard the word aboard ship and misinterpreted its meaning. And so, the word "job" morphed from a one-time assignment to a vocation. Isn't language cool?

Happy Saturday, Brethren! I'll see you next week.


Timmy! said...

Ahoy, Pauline! Well that was interesting and informative, if not exactly the most pleasant topic to be thinking about on a Saturday afternoon (or a Sunday evening as the case may be)... Oh well, at least your Saints got the "job" done today! Enjoy the rest of your weekend, Pirate Queen!

Pauline said...

Ahoy, Timmy! No jobation from Sean Payton tonight! Huzzah!