associate, adj. and n.

Joel S. Berson Berson at ATT.NET
Fri Jun 8 14:13:58 UTC 2012

At 6/8/2012 02:27 AM, Victor Steinbok wrote:
>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.

Victor, I see "associate" as a term intended to convey a higher
status than some other position/term -- e.g., a "mailroom associate"
is more prestigious than a "mailroom clerk".  I agree that the
"associate" positions are inferior to other positions -- but so is
everyone inferior to someone else, except the head man/woman.  And I
wonder how frequently the "associate" is attached to the term X for
some position so that it becomes "X associate", clearly inferior to a
just plain X.  That is, X morphs into Y -- e.g., "nurse" (or perhaps
"orderly") into "patient care (associate)".  So the position may be
the same, have the same duties, but it sounds more prestigious.

In the case of an "associate" professor, that position is actually,
as you note, *superior* to another position, the "assistant" professor.

So perhaps the sense one wants in a dictionary is the *pretension*
rather than the inferiority.


>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,
>>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 -

The American Dialect Society -

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