Antedating of "Unemployment"

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Mon Jan 17 16:49:09 UTC 2005

At 9:37 AM -0500 1/17/05, Fred Shapiro wrote:
>This is a word whose history has been much written about, including by
>E. P. Thompson in The Making of the English Working Class (Thompson
>said he had seen it used in the 1830s, but gave no citations).  I
>remember Geoffrey Nunberg was interested in it a while back.
>unemployment (OED 1888)
>1717 _The Censor_ (ed. 2) 191 (Eighteenth Century Collections Online)
>When I look forwards, and anticipate in Thought the Prospect of those
>burning Months ... when the _Female Shopkeepers_ will be the only
>Beauties left us; when scarce a _powder'd Perriwig_ will be seen in
>the Evening from a _Coffeehouse-Balcony_, and I may lay all Day on the
>Solitary Board buried in Dust and Obscurity, and owe a Perusal only to
>the Unemployment of the indolent _Waiters_.
>Fred Shapiro

as I think may have come up in our earlier discussion, this is not
clearly the very same abstract nominal attested in the 1888 cite,
which represents the usual modern sense:

1888 Science XI. 192/1 The chief purpose of the inquiry was to
ascertain..the extent of unemployment generally.

In this case, _unemployment_ is a general condition for which
statistics can be computed, benefits offered, etc.  In the 1717 cite,
it appears more to be a temporary state in which a particular
individual finds him/herself (akin to _idleness_).  Are the two
really identical?  Should the OED have two distinct listings for the
state and the societal phenomenon under the main entry?  (I would say
it should.)


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