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The Problem With British Job Titles

The Problem With British Job Titles

Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk syndicate
Copyright 2009

"Look, if the British want us Americans to stop making fun of them, they have to quit doing this stuff," said Karl, my drinking buddy and literary curmudgeon.

What stuff, I said.

Karl plonked his beer on the bar, followed by a copy of Wednesday's London Daily Express. We were sitting at MacTaggart's Scottish Pub, watching the International Ferret-Legging Championships on satellite TV.

"This stuff," he said, jabbing a gnarled finger at an article.

Victoria Beckham's Slinky New Dress Excites Hubby David?

"No, Kid," he said with disgust and embarrassment. "This one."

Hasn't the Mortar Logistics Engineer Laid That Path Yet? What does that mean?

"That's what I said," he said. "There's a British company that researched all these job titles in England to see what kind of lofty new titles they were giving to the boring and low-paying jobs."

So? I said.

"They're trying to make a person's job seem more interesting and important than they really are."

You mean they're career consultants?

"Kid, sometimes for such a smart young man, you can be a real dolt at times."

Bartender, another McEwans for my new best friend, I called. (Karl calls me Kid because I'm 20 years younger than him. Plus I was beaming at the "smart" thing.)

"Thanks, Kid. No, what they're doing is finding the low-paying grunt jobs and giving them all these fancy-schmancy titles because they're in the grips of political correctness. They don't want people to realize how dreary and dull the jobs really are, so they make up these titles to improve self-esteem."

That sounds pretty cynical, Karl, even for you. What kinds of jobs?

He picked up the paper and studied it. "Here's one. They're calling a paper boy a Media Distribution Officer. I know, I know, there are paper girls and even paper adults now, so we should just call them paper deliverers, but that's where I draw the line."

He took a healthy swig from his beer, and looked ready for another. Too many more compliments from him, and I was going to go broke.

"Here's another. They're calling a gas station attendant a Petroleum Transfer Engineer. Now, what does that say to the guy who's job it is to make sure the fuel flows from the oil tanker into the refinery. Or the guy who makes sure the oil flows through the pipeline. Or even flows from the refinery to the fuel delivery truck. The guy that pumps your gas at the local Gulp-N-Go is a pump jockey, not an engineer."

I took the paper from him. What is an Education Centre Nourishment Consultant? I asked.

"That's a lunch lady."

You mean a cafeteria worker?

"Yeah, yeah, lunch lady, cafeteria worker. Who cares?"

The lunch man.

"Fair enough. But what about this? Concrete workers are Mortar Logistics Engineers? Ooh ooh, or how about this: a window cleaner is a Transparency Enhancement Facilitator."

Eww. That's just pushing the envelope of good taste.

"Tell me about it. I hate to break it to those newly-minted Mortar Logistics Engineers, but an engineer is someone who went to a really smart school, took really smart classes, and gets paid a lot of money to build really smart, safe things." Karl took another swig of beer.

Yeah, but. . .

"It comes down to this, Kid. Employers who think sticking the word 'engineer'" – he made air quotes – "at the end of some important sounding title doesn't make it more important or less sucky." Karl took a deep breath. I knew he was getting ready to roll.

"I mean, just because I sit in my garage doesn't mean I'm a car. And calling a gas jockey a 'petroleum transfer engineer' doesn't make him one. 'Engineer' needs to be reserved for people who are what psychologists call 'wicked smart,' and have taken mathematics classes that would make the Beautiful Mind guy cry like a little girl."

But what's wrong with making a job sound more appealing to its potential candidates? They may be having problems with the image of the job, and so they want to get better workers in the position.

Karl plonked his beer again. "I can think of better way to make them more appealing: pay them more!"

A few more beers, and we'll have you solving all of the world's problems in no time, I said.

"Darn right, Kid. You know what they call a guy like me?"

Bovine Waste Artisan?

Karl thought about that for a second. "Shut up, Kid."

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