associate, adj. and n.

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM
Fri Jun 8 13:43:09 UTC 2012

Way back in 1984 I bought a stereo at Circuit City. The salesman's card
described him as a "consumer counselor."

That makes "associate" look pretty straightforward.

On Fri, Jun 8, 2012 at 2:27 AM, Victor Steinbok <aardvark66 at>wrote:

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> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Victor Steinbok <aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM>
> Subject:      associate, adj. and n.
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> 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.
> VS-)
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