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Pretentious job descriptions date back to the 19th century, when an entire lexicon of outlandish titles was created to promote trades

Pretentious ‘executive’ job titles were a Victorian invention

Pompous job titles, such as hygiene technician (cleaner), media distribution officer (paper boy) and communications executives (call-centre workers) are not a 21st or even 20th century invention, a historian at the University of Exeter has found.

 Pretentious job descriptions date back to the 19th century, when an entire lexicon of outlandish titles was created to promote trades and inflate the importance of tradesmen.

Among the exotic executive roles created was A Tripocoptontic Perruquier: a person who made washable wigs; a Delineator of the Natatorial Science : a swimming teacher; and the exotic-sounding Couranteer – a journalist to you and me.

Dr Alun Withey, a historian at the University of Exeter, has catalogued highfalutin job descriptions which he stumbled across in the pages of 19th century magazines and bulletins, whilst conducting research for a new book on the history of facial hair. Others included: 

Antigropelos Maker : maker of waterproof trousers; Idrotabolic Hat Maker : a person who makes hats with holes to let the air in; a Bibliopole or bookseller and a Manciple: servant.

Dr Withey says the outlandish job titles were designed to make tradesmen stand out from the crowd.

 “Eighteenth-century advertising was all about 'polite' language, and cajoling your customers into purchasing things, without mentioning anything so uncouth as money. Even then, though, some products began to be given pseudoscientific scientific names, to appeal to popular interest in science and technology in the Enlightenment, and sellers stressed their credentials as suppliers to the king, or selling by special patent,”

Dr Withey said. “In the nineteenth century things seemed to go a stage further, and individuals began to assume some often outlandish and fantastic-sounding job titles. One obvious reason was to make them stand out from the crowd.  Assuming a highfalutin job or product title made sometimes- boring jobs leap off the page. So why just sell 'shaving soap' when you could call it 'Hypophagon'?! Some cheekier individuals even seemed to take on professional job titles, without the bother of going to university to get them. There were, for example, a number of 'professors' of various occupations. Who, after all, wouldn't want to be taught to swim by a 'professor of the natatorial art' rather than a plain old swimming instructor?!”

Today the person who collects the rubbish may not be a “bin man” but a “waste management and disposal technician”. Manicurists are known as “nail technicians” and lifeguards “wet leisure attendants.” Recruitment consultants, meanwhile, style themselves “talent delivery specialists.” 

Dr Withey believes the job title tells us much about “the changing nature of work.” 

“In Tudor and Stuart times, occupations were often based on individuals manufacturing and producing, rather than working within a bigger company, and their job titles reflected that. But the nature of work changed through the eighteenth century and industrial revolution too, as more people worked together in one place, and company hierarchies and structures and administration had to be worked out. As this all happened, the ways that jobs were described - and by those who did them - also altered,” he said.   

“The Victorians were in many ways the originators of what we see today… was they who took it to the next level, with job titles that could make a pin maker sound like a particle physicist.”

Date: 12 February 2018

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