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by Stephen Neville

In keeping with the topic of October's general meeting, this month's Word Origins are themed around working and looking for work:


Noun. A résumé is a brief account, or summary, of one's professional or work experience and qualifications, often for the purpose of seeking work. Résumé originates, as would be expected, from the French language. It is the past participle of résume: to summarize. It is also probably influenced by the Old French sommer: to find the sum of.


Noun. Salary goes back to the Latin word salarium, a derivative of sal or salt, which originally denoted an "allowance given to a Roman soldier for buying salt." Salt was, in former times, a valued commodity over which wars were fought, rather that taken for granted as it is today. It soon broadened out to mean "fixed periodic payment for work done," and passed in this sense via Anglo-Norman salarie into English


Verb. The word consult, meaning "to confer or deliberate together," comes directly from the Latin consultare, which means "to discuss." Possibly the original sense of the word meant to call a body of people (such as the Roman Senate) together. Consult first appeared in English around 1565, and the same path of linguistic evolution also produced our modern "consul" and "counsel."


Noun. Gig first appeared as a slang term among jazz musicians in the mid-1920's. Although mostly used as a noun, gig also has a verb form used in the uncommon word "gigging." The word itself connotes a short-term "one-night stand." Appearing in English in the 15th century, "gig" meant something spinning, like a "whirligig." Derived from that is a meaning of dancing, and since playing at parties and dances is every musician's meal ticket early in their career, it's easy to see how "gig" became generalized to mean any paying job.

Work Cut Out for You

The phrase, "to have your work cut out for you," means to be facing an obviously difficult task, and as much as an individual could handle. The history of the phrase referred to sewing. Someone else would cut out the pattern of a jacket for example, but the hardest part of the job would be to sew those pieces together. Therefore the person sewing would have his or her "work cut out for them." Today the phrase can be applied to any sort of work or effort, not only means to have a difficult challenge, but also implies that the challenge can be seen ahead and anticipated. "To have your work cut out for you" is a remarkably old phrase, dating back to around 1600, and occurs in Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol."

Sources of Information

The following is a list of the sources used to obtain the above information:

  • The Merriam-Webster Dictionary
  • Collins Dictionary
  • Encarta Encyclopedia
  • A Word A Day newsletter (Highly Recommended)

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