Work Words


While for many Labor Day weekend signals the end of summer, it was originally started to celebrate the “laboring classes.” In this post we’ll be celebrating working hard or, as the case may be, hardly working.

If you have ergasiomania, you have “a restless desire, amounting at times to an insane impulsion, to be continually at work.” (The word also has a meaning that pertains specifically to surgeons: “a desire. . .to operate at every opportunity, whether or not the operation is indicated or justifiable.”)  As an ergasiomaniac, you may be a workaholic, “a person who feels compelled to work excessively”; or a sleep camel, “a person who gets little sleep during the week, and then attempts to make up for it by sleeping in and napping on the weekend.” You may practice inemuri, “the Japanese practice of sleeping on the job. . .to show how committed you are to working.”

You may experience job spill, “work or work-related tasks that carry over into personal time.” You may practice the art of weisure, “free time spent doing work or work-related tasks”; experience vacation deprivation; or take fake-cations, “a vacation where a significant amount of time is spent reading email and performing other work-related tasks.” Maybe you’re a mucus trooper, “an employee with a cold or the flu who insists on showing up for work,” practicing presenteeism, “the act of being present at work even if one’s too sick to be productive.” Hopefully you’ll never succumb to karoshi, a Japanese term for “death, such as from heart attack or stroke, brought on by overwork or job-related stress.”

On the other end of the ergo (that’s Greek for “work”) spectrum is ergasiophobia, “an irrational fear of work.” (Again, the word also has a surgeon-specific definition: “excessive timidity, on the part of a surgeon, and fear to perform an operation even when it is urgently indicated.”) This phobia isn’t due to laziness but rather to performance anxiety and a fear of failure.

luftmensch doesn’t have ergophobia but prefers not to work, and is “more concerned with airy intellectual pursuits than practical matters like earning an income.” A luftmensch may keep company with slackers, or underachievers; NEETs, those “not in employment, education, or training”; or freeters, young people who “work only when they need cash,” and otherwise “hang out, travel whenever possible and celebrate their rejection of their parents’ old work-aholic lifestyle.”

Or maybe you have a job and work hard, but occasionally find yourself practicing eyeservice, “service performed only under inspection of the eye of an employer”; glazing, or “sleeping with your eyes open,” during meetings; or social notworking, “surfing a social networking site instead of working.” You may do a desk tour, “when you and at least one other co-worker tour the desks of other workers, ideally in other divisions, floors, etc.,”; some smexting, texting while smoking; stealth parenting, “performing childcare duties while pretending to be at a business meeting or other work-related function”; or getting paid for some undertime, time stolen “during the day to compensate for heavier workloads and more stress” by running errands, shopping, or surfing the Internet.

While you’re busy pretending to work, gain some inspiration from these lists of irresponsibilites and laboredoms, and hope you don’t get called one of these. While you’re at it check out these interesting occupations, these occupational surnames, and these occupational hazards. Or how about these archaic occupations, these defunct professions, and these sellers and makers?

Whether you’re a salaryman, a dogsbody, or a desk jockey; a lychnobite, a nine-to-fiver, or arubaito; whether you’re in middle management or a muckety muck, we hope you enjoy these occupational words (and a sinecure). Now get back to work! Or at least pretend to.

Special thanks to Word Spy for some of these great working – and non-working – words.

[Photo: CC BY 2.0 by Sean MacEntee]