Query: "Spanish Practices"

Michael Quinion editor at WORLDWIDEWORDS.ORG
Tue Aug 28 08:43:55 UTC 2001

> A search of the Internet reveals many similar uses, usually
> dealing with labor and union issues, but I cannot determine the
> exact meaning. Seems to be mostly British usage. Anyone?

It is mainly British, I believe. It refers to working practices
that have grown up over time in long-established businesses that
employ many people. These are often - but not always - heavily
unionised, usually closed-shop firms, in heavy industry.

In these, a variety of customary but often unauthorised and
costly practices have grown up over time; others have been
instituted as a result of demands by unions. Over-manning is the
most common one, but informal arrangements to ensure excessive
demands for overtime payments and a variety of allowances for
supposed special situations also occur.

The term originated, I believe, in the Fleet Street hot-metal
print shops of national newspapers, but has been extended to
broadcasting, and I've seen it used for the railways and even
for financial institutions.

An earlier form is "old Spanish custom", which is recorded from
the 1930s. This was just a humorous reference to something that
supposedly originated in a distant country, not a literal
reference to anything Spanish!

Michael Quinion
Editor, World Wide Words
<editor at worldwidewords.org>

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