[OPE-L:2670] Re: (Q) work and labor

Paul Cockshott (wpc@cs.strath.ac.uk)
Thu, 18 Jul 1996 02:56:44 -0700 (PDT)

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>I thank you very much for your help, Michael W. and Paul C.
>But, I'm a bit confusing.
>Paul, do you mean there's no distinction in English such
>as Engels insisted ? Do you see no difference in nuances
>in using "work" and "labor"?

There are distinctions. In english we tend to use german
words in everyday speech and latin or french ones in educated speach
and learned written material. In principle one could refer
to the same thing as work, labour, toil or travail, but as one moves
towards the latin and french usages they sound less and less
natural and more affected, poetic or stylised.

People would normally describe their activity as work not
labour, the word labour is reserved for menial physical
work, particularly in building or agriculture. If one calls
something labour one implies that it involves muscular effort.
The words toil and labour both imply heavy physical work.

The fact that Scottish and English political economists of the
18th and 19th century used the word labour rather than work, is,
I think part of the system of class dialects that exist within
Britain, whereby the upper classes and the educated used a more
latinate or greek influenced dialect than the common people.

It was the class position of the early political economists,
their educational background ( knowledge of french, latin and greek)
that affected their speech. The pervasion of classical tongues
meant that in the late 18th early 19th century the upper classes
in Scotland refered to the common speech as the 'demotic', a
direct borrowing of the Greek term for the speech of the
poorer classes.

Hence what the plain folk would have called a workshop, was in the
speech of the upper classes latinised into a manufacutory, workers
were called operatives, work became labour. Arkwright, a man of
humble origins, might call his machine 'self-acting', but once
engineering became a respectable discipline similar machines were called
Paul Cockshott