(Revised) Forward to New Edition — Prose by Julia Lichtblau
- Revision of classifications, combining narrow obsolete specialties into UNDEFINED continues to cause turmoil in the labor force, especially among the trades that were emotionally attached to their titles in a less-industrialized era. The DICTIONARY, as a mirror of the workplace, can only reflect reality, however undesirable. We, the EDITORS, were nonetheless surprised at the vehement response occasioned by certain proposed changes during the Comment Period.
ARTIST, TATTOO to TATTOO ARTIST; APIARIST to BEEKEEPER; APPLIERS, ANTI-SQUEAK to ANTI-SQUEAK FILLER I, proved particularly controversial. Perhaps loss of status was seen where none was intended.
The reclassification of BENDERS, CREPE BOX as EMBOSSERS II provoked indignation in the profession, however only a small minority of labor classification experts had ever heard of a CREPE BOX BENDER, whereas most could readily define the functions of an EMBOSSER. Redefinition of BONERS as FISH BONERS was warmly received. Similarly, the agricultural sector hailed the switch from BREEDERS, RABBIT, GUINEA PIG, RAT, etc. to FARMERS, ANIMAL as progressive and dignified.
STAFF UNDEFINED, previously WRITERS, EDITORS, COPY EDITORS, PROOFREADERS, RESEARCHERS et al, have appended particularly expressive samples of PUBLIC COMMENTARY—oral and written—on the changes in the 1939 EDITION.
MANAGERS may find them helpful in explaining the changes in occupational titles to the Rank-and-File and Personnel Departments.
SUPERVISOR of REVISIONS
UNDEFINED, my ass. My dad was a PURSE SEINE FISHERMAN and whenever he met a BEACH SEINER, he’d dig me ribs and say, Thank God I ain’t one of those HAUL, DRAG or BEACH SEINERS. I know me place and they knows theirs, he says. We’re DEFINED to the end of time.
Picture this. High winds. Move your arse, TUBE ROLLER says to the RIPRAP PLACER. Shove it in the slot, ABLE SEAMAN. SNUFF-CAN ROLLER, roll’er, roll’er in. Here comes RIGGER UNDEFINED, when what we needed was DEFINED. Ah, too late. Down she goes.
How about undefining the SUPERVISOR?
We can all drink to that, signed QUENCHING CAR MEN.
Dear Mr. Reedy: Our SHAG BOSS, the son of a bitch, is a WHIM DRIVER. He tells us to delete the SHORT ORDER SELECTOR. How the hell are we supposed to know which to keep?
A BREAST SAWYER and a LEG SAWYER, UNDEFINED. Is nothing sacred?
TUNNEL KILN CAR SETTER and VAULT LIGHT SETTER. Lights at the end of the tunnel. Bless you, sirs, for leaving us unconverted, defined, free.
II. AH, THE OLD DAYS
Was it only 1935 when we dickered all night with the CAPONIZERS? The CHICKEN SEXER lay down with the SHEEP SHEARER, the YARN DUMPMAN with the SPECK PICKER, MASTER II embraced PORT CAPTAIN: TOP SORTER and TOP RACKER. SLACKER MAN and SLIDER, HAND BUFFER and CIGARETTE GIRL, CHARWOMAN and—was that a blush, ladies?—SMOOTH-ON MAN. Solidarity as far as the eye could see.
III. A WORD FROM THE LADIES’ AUXILIARY
The EGG BREAKER and the HEEL-BREASTER dropped by the union hall only to find the RETURNED-STOCKING REPAIRMAN and the ROUGE MIXER down at the mouth. Unused to female scorn, they lamented, “We was hosed by PILE-DRIVING NOZZLEMEN.”
LARRYMAN II leans over to QUEBRACHO TANNER one stool west and says, “I’m a cowboy and you’re a BRONC BUSTER and betwixt us, we should be able to corral a coupla fillies.” Off they go.
Behind the scenes, the MAIDS, GENERAL, NO COOKING, turned up their noses at every WAX IMPREGNATOR, from AITCH BONE BREAKER to ARTIFICIAL PEARL-MAKER. “Watch that FLESHING MACHINE OPERATOR, shucking and jiving. Waddle over here, CARBOY, and let me give you a fleshing, heel to breast and back down the other side.” The HEDDLER GIRLS shimmer and shake. You’d think it had been a century. I glimpsed the WET-LAP TRUCKER and had to turn aside. Throw the man a towel. What you’d expect in a LACE HOSE HAND.
IV. HEARING TRANSCRIPT
Q: Mr. Reedy, how did you arrive at the new code for SNAKE OIL SALESMAN?
A: SNAKE TRAINER plus CLERGYMAN plus OPTICAL GOODS SALESMAN.
Q: You mingled MANGLE TENDER with INTERNAL-GRINDER OPERATOR and came up with MUCKING MACHINE MAN?
A: And Bob’s your uncle. You, in the fedora.
Q: “How do you classify SIGN ERECTOR plus HARDENER II?”
A: I’ll let my ACID-RETORT OPERATOR answer that. Bill?
A. “TISSUE INSERTER.”
PROTEST SONG ERUPTS
The CALLIOPE PLAYER starts in, MARIONETTE MAN does a two-step with PUNCH and JUDY. “Sing it, RIVET FLUNKY: Tararaboomdi-ay. Boss man’s off today/ There once was a union maid/ she never was afraid/of goons and ginks and company finks and deputy sheriffs that made the raids/ I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night, alive as you and me, says I, but Joe you’re ten years dead, I never died, says he/”
The following are in favor of remaining DEFINED:
WHEEL GIRL, SILK BOY
BUCKER UP, PIG TAILER,
GUT SNATCHER, BEAT-OUT BOY,
DRESSER TENDER, SHOULDER PUNCHER,
TICKET CHOPPER, PRETZEL TWISTER,
TINHOUSE SCRUFFMAN, TOMATO SKINNER,
All say “Aye.”
Julia Lichtblau’s essays, criticism, and fiction have appeared in American Fiction, The American Scholar, Commonweal, The Common, Blackbird, Narrative, The Florida Review, and elsewhere. She was book review editor of The Common, taught writing about business at Drew University, and was a journalist in New York and Paris for BusinessWeek and Dow Jones. She has an MFA from Bennington College and recently completed a novel set in Washington, D.C. and Côte d’Ivoire. Her father was a Labor specialist at the State Department, and she learned “The Union Maid” and “I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill” at her father’s knee.