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CALENDAR Sunday 18 September: Twenty-fifth Sunday of the Year (Year A) Monday 19 September: Feria or St Januarius, Bishop and Martyr Tuesday 20 September: Sts Andrew Kim Taegon and Companions, Martyrs Wednesday 21 September: St Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist Thursday 22 September: Feria Friday 23 September: St Pius of Pietrelcina, Priest Saturday 24 September: Our Lady of Walsingham Sunday 25 September: Twenty-sixth Sunday of the Year


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Independently audited certified average circulation per issue of THE TABLET for issues distri buted between 1 January and


30 June 2011 is 20,976. Volume 265 No. 8913 ISSN: 0039 8837


THE LANGUAGE GAME


Job lot JOHN MORRISH


WHEN PRESIDENTObama proposed to inject more money into the American economy last week, he came up with a name for his plan. He proposed an “American Jobs Act”, possi- bly reasoning that few people would be willing to vote against “jobs”. It’s that kind of word. A “job” is most commonly used nowadays


to mean an occupation, a position of regular employment. But its connotations are with low- status work, as opposed to a “profession” or a “calling”. It has certainly been used in this way since the end of the eighteenth century. A news item in the Caledonian Mercury of Edinburgh, in July 1800, has the following, reporting on prosecutions of clergymen for non-residence: “It may be asserted generally, that a man who, unless prevented by real ill- ness, does not reside in his parish, and perform his duties, makes religion a mere job.” That’s not how the word was first used, how-


ever. It originally meant a piece of work, or a single task done during one’s regular occupa- tion, and it retains that sense today: “I’ve got a couple of jobs to do first, and then I’ll be ready,” you might say. Its etymology is unclear how- ever. The word first appears in the 1550s, in the court papers of Edward VI, where it is used in the phrase “jobs of work”. That would have been tautologous if “job” meant “work”. The OED’s tentative suggestion is that “job” meant “piece”: it finds a near-contemporaneous use of the word to mean “a cartload; the amount that a horse and cart can bring at one time”. Samuel Pepys used it frequently to refer to work for money, being permanently anxious about his income. “I thank God I do save money, though it be but a little,” he wrote in October 1662. “but I hope to find out some job or other that I may get a sum by to set me up.” But “job” also had depreciative overtones. It could mean something done for a quick profit


or opportunistic reasons. John Gay, in the sec- ond part of his Fables of 1738, spoke of someone’s marriage as “a money job at best”. From the seventeenth century “job” was


criminals’ slang for an illegal activity. One of the many ballads collected by Pepys has this couplet: “She rode about seven miles farther, and then a stage-coach she did rob / The pas- sengers all cried out ‘Murder’, but this was a fifty-pound job.” It remains current today: we are all familiar with “bank jobs” and “inside jobs”. (The Job is the name of the official news- paper of the Metropolitan Police.) It can mean a task that has to be carried out: in the words of Winston Churchill: “Give us the tools, and we will finish the job.” It can be a particularly difficult task, as in “I had a job doing that”. It can be a particular person’s responsibility, or not, as in “it’s not my job”. It can be a state of affairs, as in “it’s a good job you called me”. It can be a particular type of thing, especially something manufactured: “My phone is one of those touch-screen jobs.” And it can be a surgical procedure, with “nose job” appearing first in America in 1947. It has also given rise to countless phrases, from “the best of a bad job” (first recorded in 1821) to “the devil’s own job” (1826) and “just the job” (1943). Then there’s that very British phrase, “more than my job’s worth”, first recorded in an advertisement in The Times in 1925. It gave rise to that delightful insult, “jobsworth”, which seems to have appeared first in print in Melody Maker in 1970, before being popularised on television by Esther Rantzen’s That’s Lifein the 1980s. A “jobsworth” is some- one who is determined to hang on to their employment by sticking to the rules, even at the expense of common sense. An understand- able tendency, even at the best of times – which these are not.


Glimpses of Eden


PERHAPS THEpush bike is one of the greatest inven- tions ever. Not only does it keep you healthy and leave the air sweet, but it frees


us from the tyranny of knowing only our own square mile of the world, without imprison- ing us in the box-shaped captivity of the car-dependent life. It also, refreshingly often, throws up the unexpected. Like the time we met the freshwater lobster. Three miles from home on quiet roads over stubbled arable fields and sudden sheep pad- docks, we paused for a minute on the bridge, bridge-pausing being definitely one of the spe- cial gifts for cyclists. Having gazed our fill, we were about to pedal on when, incredibly, a claw


40 | THE TABLET | 17 September 2011


was spotted rising to the surface of the beck below. We watched in amazement as the claw inspected a passing flotilla of oak leaves, before emerging as a mysterious crustacean, whose eight legs then scuttled across the stream bed. This was our introduction to the white-


clawed crayfish, which is indeed a freshwater lobster. It was only when we rode home that we realised the significance of our bicycle sight- ing. Living their quiet, unobtrusive lives in our unpolluted streams, canals, ponds and even quarry pools, the white-claws are endangered by the invasion of a larger, more aggressive species of crayfish. Great resources are being wielded on their behalf. Who knows what drama the next ride will uncover? Jonathan Tulloch


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