A whimsical, alphabetical guide to occupations both obscure and familiar, some long-forgotten, others still being carried out by today’s workforce.
From abbess to zymologist, Voorhees (Shooting Genji, 2014) traces the origins of some of history’s earliest jobs. (Yes, Voorhees acknowledges that his book’s title is a euphemism for prostitution.) A few of the job titles will be familiar to contemporary readers; others, like agister (“an official in the royal forest who looks after cattle that are allowed to live and feed in the forest for a certain amount of time”) and kemp (“a big, strong, brave warrior or athlete”), are more archaic. Most entries are accompanied by at least one citation, some reaching back to the works of classic Roman writers. Essays, many of which have been previously published, on the more detailed histories of some of the terms are interspersed throughout the text. For instance, the miller entry leads to a précis on the labor movement in the textile mills of Lowell, Massachusetts. Perhaps no one ever posted a help-wanted notice for “cannon fodder,” but the drover—“someone who leads such animals as cattle or sheep to sometimes distant markets”—was once a significant aspect of the labor force. Readers who delight in obsolete slang will take note of “hackster” (aka a pimp) and “jack pudding,” a 17th-century term for a clown. A large portion of the jobs included here come from the English-speaking world, but a considerable number are drawn from non-European countries such as China and India. The idiosyncratic selection of professions makes it difficult to conclude whether this book aims to be an encyclopedia or a collection of well-organized trivia. Regardless, it is without question engaging in its scope and approach. Some of the shorter entries may send readers on a search for further explanations or documentation, and despite the densely filled pages, readers are unlikely to be bored even by the longer entries.
A wide-reaching collection of tidbits about work of all sorts.