From work-shy to workaholic
November 23, 2009
I have just acquired a copy of The Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary, and though I can’t pretend to have grokked the classification scheme in the hour I have spent with it so far, it is a thing of beauty. Consulting it with regard to our discussion about professionalism, I happened upon this pair of entries, in which a sweeping historical narrative is poetically condensed:
03.10.01.04 (n.) Attitudes to work
solidarity 1885– · work-shyness 1904– · ergophobia 1905– · work-mindedness 1960– · technophobia 1965– · Luddism 1967– · workaholism 1968– · technomania 1969– · Ludditism 1971– · technofear 1980–
03.10.01.04 (adj.) Attitudes to work
laboursome 1551–1620 · workful 1854– · work-shy 1904– · work-minded 1954– · Luddite 1957– · workaholic 1974–
Interestingly, professionalism does not appear as “an attitude to work” in HTOED, ((Browsing through the various cognates of “professionalism”, I did learn that professional has been applied to monks, and that the practice of calling tools or equipment professional dates from as long ago as 1955.)) but I think that is really the contemporary sense we were after in the case where a boss asks an employee to “be more professional” — what is being demanded is not mere skilfulness in doing the job, but an attitude towards the job. You will not only do this, the boss instructs, you will commit more of your being to it. It seems to me at least possible, however, that such psychic totalitarianism is likely to lead to an increase in ergophobia (delightful word!) and thus turn out to be self-defeating?