"work construction" 'do construction work'

Wilson Gray hwgray at GMAIL.COM
Wed Dec 31 04:03:01 UTC 2008

"Work construction" is a "standard" BE construction <har! har!>.
However, it appears to be unique. I can't recall ever having heard
"work [some other kind of job] and nothing that I've been able to make
up, except for "work a good, decent, etc., job," with the meaning,
"have a job that's good in some way": pays well, has regular hours,
plenty of goof-off time, easy-going bossman, or whatever, feels real.

Another phrase with a single meaning is "run on the road": work for
Amtrak in a job that entails working on a moving train: Pullman
porter, conductor, bartender, engineer, cook, dining-car waiter, etc.,
as opposed to working in the railroad yards as an oiler, brakeman,
cleaner, or in some other such maintenance job.

Back in the day, "running on the road" was restricted to Pullman
porter, dining-car waiter, or cook. All other jobs were for whites
only. Once I knew a black man passing for white - he looked liked Sen.
Joseph McCarthy's separated-at-birth twin - who worked as a dining-car
steward, roughly equivalent to maitre d', on the old Katy - for MKT or
Missouri-Kansas-Texas Raiload - Line. The town of Katy, Texas, is
named for this now-defunct railroad.

One of my uncles made a career of running on the road as a dining-car
waiter. By the time that he retired, he had a permanent crease across
his thighs from 55 years of leaning against tables while serving

All say, "How hard it is that we have to die"---a strange complaint to
come from the mouths of people who have had to live.
-Mark Twain

On Tue, Dec 30, 2008 at 7:34 PM, Benjamin Zimmer
<bgzimmer at babel.ling.upenn.edu> wrote:
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> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Benjamin Zimmer <bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU>
> Subject:      Re: "work construction" 'do construction work'
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> On Tue, Dec 30, 2008 at 7:01 PM, Arnold Zwicky <zwicky at stanford.edu> wrote:
>> heard this in a tv ad, though it was certainly familiar -- and there
>> are very large numbers of relevant hits for "work/works/worked/working
>> construction".  not in the OED,  so far as i can tell.
>> there are plenty of instances of "do N work" (N = volunteer,
>> missionary, upholstery, kitchen, plumbing, charity, voiceover,
>> inpatient, ...).  but none in the "work N" pattern with the
>> appropriate meaning, it seems.  so, a very specific idiom.
> There's also "work retail". Plenty of Googlehits for "I worked retail" and the
> like.
> "Work construction/retail" strikes me as elliptical for "work *in*
> construction/retail."
> --Ben Zimmer
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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