associate, adj. and n.

Victor Steinbok aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM
Fri Jun 8 06:27:29 UTC 2012

I was on the T today and spotted someone with a hospital ID that read
"ICU Patient Care Associate". And I thought, "That's a nice euphemism."
Then it occurred to me that "associate" is one of the more common
current business euphemisms. It replaces "clerk", "secretary",
"orderly", "front man", etc. If you go to a car dealership for an oil
change, you're greeted by a "service associate". You want your bed pan
changed in a hospital, you call a "patient care associate". You want to
archive you paperwork from the latest transaction, you call the filing
associate. If you agree to something from a telemarketing call, you are
transferred to the caller's "associate" to take down your formal
information (the only case among the rest where the position may not be
hierarchical--merely different duties). And if you want to mail
something from your office building, you give it to the mail-room
associate. This does not even include the associates in law firms. Then,
there is the adjectival version. If you're not a full professor, you
can't get tenure unless you've achieved the associate professor status
(that is, assistant professors are sub-par, in some gradation scheme).
If you work for a publisher, but not in charge of much of anything,
you're an associate book editor--and you report to the book editor. If
you do. on-site estimation work for an insurance company, but are not
authorized to sign the paperwork, you're an associate adjustor.

I can keep going, but one thing all these uses of "associate" in either
noun or adjective version have in common is that they all represent
subordinate positions--they are clearly inferior to other positions that
come without the "associate" tag. The "patient care associates" are
subordinate to nurses. The law firm associates are subordinate to
partners. And I've already mentioned the other ones. In the past,
"associate" meant a position that is sideways, so to speak, from your
own. Now it means sideways and downward.

Nothing of the sort can be found in the OED. All the definitions
there--and there is only one article that includes both adj. and n.--are
more collegial positions than subordinate ones. Law firm associate does
not merit a separate entry--which is to say, it does not have one at all.

Associate, adj. and n.
> A. adj. = associated, adj.
> 1. Joined in companionship, function, or dignity.
> 2. Joined in league, allied, confederate.
> 3. United in the same group or category, allied; concomitant.
> B. n. [the adj. used absolutely.]
> 1. One who is united to another by community of interest, and shares
> with him in enterprise, business, or action; a partner, comrade,
> companion.
> 2. A companion in arms, ally, confederate.
> 3. One who shares an office or position of authority with another; a
> colleague, coadjutor. spec. An officer of the Superior Courts of
> Common Law in England, ‘whose duties are to superintend the entering
> of causes, to attend sittings at nisi prius, and there receive and
> enter verdicts,’ etc. (Warton.)
> 4. One who is frequently in company with another, on terms of social
> equality and intimacy; an intimate acquaintance, companion, mate.
> 5. One who belongs to an association or institution in a subordinate
> degree of membership, without the honours and privileges of a full
> member or ‘Fellow.’
> 6. A thing placed or found in conjunction with another.
> 7. /Psychol/. An idea, or other mental content, connected with another
> by any of the forms of association.

All of these suggestion something in partnership, companionship,
intimacy, confederacy, conjunction. Not one suggests any kind of
hierarchical relationship or clerical position. This is not surprising,
as only two of the entries A.1. and B.7. have any examples past
1880--and both are coincidentally from 1931.


The American Dialect Society -

More information about the Ads-l mailing list