Monday, September 12, 2011

The Wage Slave's Glossary on Marketplace

If you read the July issue of Harper's, where Mark Kingwell's introduction to the soon to be launched Wage Slave's Glossary appeared in excerpt, than you may well know that the follow-up to the Idler's Glossary was soon to hit bookshelves. With incredible foresight, we released The Idler's Glossary in October 2008, at the precise moment the world slipped into the worst recession since the Great Depression. We are releasing The Wage Slave's Glossary, at least according to the catalogue bumpf, as we strive to climb out of it. Truth be told, however, not much has changed since '08: on the BBC this evening a leading British economist predicted we're actually closer to entering a Great Depression than ever. One way or another, this glossary serves as useful function, as it continues its authors exploration of the various linkages between words and work, and how language continues to bind us in chains.

Over on American Public Radio's Marketplace, glossary-compiler Joshua Glenn gave a short interview about the book and its genesis, and some of the more interesting concepts it explores. Here's a taste of it:

KAI RYSSDAL: This next three-and-a-half minutes of the broadcast are for all you "clockless workers," grinding away in the countless "cube farms" out there.

If you need a translation, I direct you to a new book called "The Wage Slave's Glossary." It's a new collection of terms about work and the workplace. Joshua Glenn's one of the co-authors. Welcome to the program.

JOSHUA GLENN: Thank you.

RYSSDAL: Why write this book? I mean, we've got dictionaries all over the place.

GLENN: Our previous book was "The Idler's Glossary," and that was a collection of terms that were celebrating a certain style of life: the idler's way of life, where you don't let work define who you are and what you do. And this one is looking at the other side of that coin, which is the fact that so many of us work at jobs where we don't have very much control over how we do it or when we do it or what we're doing, even.

RYSSDAL: Run me through some of the definitions, some of your favorite key phrases in this dictionary, would you?

GLENN: I'm very interested in all these words that come from the workplace that people use to describe themselves. 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.

We look at a lot of corporate jargon, of course, things like the "clockless worker," "loyalty time," "flexibilization" -- these kind of sinister euphemisms for bad things that corporations like to do. "Clockless worker" being somebody's who's willing to ignore what the clock says and just keep working; "loyalty time" being another word for unpaid overtime. Even the word "boss" actually comes from Dutch plantations; a work boss was somebody who was in charge of, the overseer of the slaves on the plantation. So the fact that we've now come to use that in a completely, almost admiring way -- it's no longer a pejorative -- says a lot about how much we've forgotten about how work has developed over the years.

For the full interview, please go here. You can also listen to it at the same link. For a short excerpt from the glossary, please go here.

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