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ComicMonster
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PostSubject: shiftless = no-shift?   shiftless = no-shift? EmptyFri 03 Apr 2020, 08:51

Hi everyone!
Thought you had got rid of me? No, no, no… affraid 

Well, in fact I know you've missed me…

Confined as we are, I keep translating, and have found a word whose etymology I'd need to know. It's "shiftless". I am aware of its meaning, and how to render it in Spanish, but I need to see what is this "no-shift" about. The word means "lazy", etc. But what is the relation with "shift"? And what shift does the word refer to? Is it shift as in moving, changing, work period…? Or is it related with "gear", as the ones in a car? (so as to say that the shiftless person has no gear on him/her, no motricity…). The author of the (fantastic, by the way) book I am translating engages in a long and thoughtful analysis of the word and explains:


" The word “shiftless” goes back to the 1500s meaning helpless, without resources, lazy, without a shift or shirt; see Oxford English Dictionary ". What is the meaning of shift in that sentence? I thought it could it be "resource", but that one is already taken. I wanted to think then that it alluded to a person with no "means" (money), but "shiftless" is a derogatory term, and having no money sort of "justifies" the inaction in cause. I need something that qualifies the shiftless guy/gal and leaves no excuse whatsoever (the word tends more to "classify" people once and for all than to "qualify" or "describe" them).


Thanks a lot for your sure help.



I just add a part of the context should you wish to have a look at it. And please take care with that s.o.b of virus out there —which we will soon be sending to the darkest black hole available in the universe…
"Odum knew it would be extremely difficult to dislodge cultural prej- udices. In 1938, he sent questionnaires to distinguished academics across the country, asking each to define what “poor white” meant to him. Where and when did they first hear the term? he wanted to know. Were there state and regional differences in how the term was used? Where did they think the term originated? What were its distinctive features? What other terms were prevalent that carried similar meaning?50
The responses revealed how slippery the label “poor white” could be. While several sociologists said outright that the term was “fuzzy,” a loose example of name-calling, most of Odum’s known forty-six respondents listed as many negative attributes associated with poor whites as came to mind. The most popular adjective was “shiftless.” It was connected to a string of synonyms: purposeless, hand to mouth, lazy, unambitious, no account, no desire to improve themselves, inertia. All these descrip- tions conflated the unwillingness to work with some innate charac- ter flaw.51
“Shiftless” was not a new word. Chronicling his southern tour in the 1850s, Frederick Law Olmsted had used it to categorize slothful slave- owners and slaves alike. It was a favorite word among New Englanders in describing bad farmers, and was a common reproach toward tavern- keepers and other immoral characters who congregated in dens with lowly laborers. By Theodore Roosevelt’s time it was the word of choice in legislation that punished deserting husbands; “shiftlessness” was a major symptom in the eugenicist’s diagnosis of the degenerate."


Best wishes, Cheers


CM
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nordmann
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PostSubject: Re: shiftless = no-shift?   shiftless = no-shift? EmptyFri 03 Apr 2020, 09:10

Hi CM - always welcome here, you know that!

"Shift" in that sense comes from an Old English use of the word to communicate "expedience", "access to resources", or "means", and comes from a Germanic root - most probably "Schift" or "Schiff-" though this meant "exchange of resources" rather than the resource itself, and cannot be demonstrated to have made the transition, just presumed based on the close similarity. That it came from this Germanic root is probably verified however by the fact that in Norwegian a positive form which English no longer uses, and a negative form very close to the English usage, both existed in common speech until relatively recently - "schiftartig" and "schiftløs", which in English would be "Shiftful" and "Shiftless". Unlike in English the term however was not so pejorative and simply meant a person with or without means.

Long before it arrived in America it had already acquired a rather condemnatory meaning in English - the "shiftless" person was no longer just unfortunately lacking resources but, with true puritan "logic", was guilty of perpetuating this state through sloth.

A continuation of this old sense of the word can be found in "makeshift", which is an artfully assembled use of resources to hand, normally to create an expedient solution to a problem.
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ComicMonster
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PostSubject: Re: shiftless = no-shift?   shiftless = no-shift? EmptyFri 03 Apr 2020, 10:23

Hello nordmann! Glad to "see" you! —you are right, I know everyone in this forum received me with open arms, and most specially you; it's just my renowned jocularity…
Sorry for the late answer; this book is really demanding to me… Thanks a lot for your answer. It's great, just splendid, as usual. You make difficulties into happy occasions.

Gratefully,

CM
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nordmann
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PostSubject: Re: shiftless = no-shift?   shiftless = no-shift? EmptyFri 03 Apr 2020, 10:57

@ComicMonster wrote:


... You make difficulties into happy occasions....


Cheers  Not a sentiment shared by some others here, I think .... Smile

I was interested in the etymology cited in your original post, especially the bit that says the OED credits the phrase's origin to being "without a shirt, or shift". That is not what my OED says, though there is a tenuous connection. "Shift" as a female's undergarment began life indeed as a man or woman's smock-like garment, worn over clothes to protect them from dirt, or under clothes to protect them from body odours. This would also have come from the Old Germanic "exchange of resources" sense in that such a garment was indeed resourceful, and primarily because it was basic and cheap and could therefore be easily changed, thus saving one the expense of frequently "shifting" and washing more expensive garments. Despite it now being different from "shirt" only by one letter, the two have completely separate etymological evolutions from PIE, and that is a mistake the OED would never make. Or frankly put, it raises an uncomfortable question regarding either the author's honesty or his ability to actually research things, neither of which failing should be carried with one into writing a non-fictional work, I would have thought.

Keep well and keep safe, CM!
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ComicMonster
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PostSubject: Re: shiftless = no-shift?   shiftless = no-shift? EmptyFri 03 Apr 2020, 11:17

…and some swore the Earth was flat…; you bet.

I am sure you are right. It's probably that the author is more of a sociologist with occasional interests in linguistics and word evolution. I nevertheless thought that "without shirt" would match the idea of "destitution" associated with "no resources or means" —which is by the way useful as a future bullet in my cartridge belt, since "without shirt" would nicely correspond to "descamisado" as a really poor person or (maybe) ragamuffin.

Thanks again for your fantastic job, nordmann. Smile

friendly,

CM
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PostSubject: Re: shiftless = no-shift?   shiftless = no-shift? EmptyFri 03 Apr 2020, 11:39

I have found the exalted OED's etymology to be quite deficient on several occasions, most recently in regards to the word 'macaroni' for which I have found a clear quotation in English some decades earlier than OED's first quoted usage. But going back to 'shiftless', there's also the expression of being able (or sometimes not) to shift for oneself - ie to manage, usually in difficult circumstances.

I've been reading Pepys Diaries lately: now there's a man who knew all about shifts as a (generally female) under-garment and how to get into them!  But he also clearly uses the word in the other sense of 'coping in difficult circumstances'. For example for 17 April 1660 (the background is that he's supposed to be part of the official but only quasi-legal delegation to welcome home from exile Charles Stuart, later Charles II, who's just landed at Portsmouth and whose sudden arrival has rather caught everyone in London 'on the hop', and they, Pepys included, must needs manage as best they can to get themselves down to Portsmouth to welcome their new king):

"So everybody prepared to fit himself for his journey, and I walked to Woolwich to trim and shift for myself, and by the time I was ready they come down in the Bezan yacht, and so I aboard and my boy, Tom, and there very merrily we sailed to below Gravesand, and there come to anchor for all night, .... "


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nordmann
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PostSubject: Re: shiftless = no-shift?   shiftless = no-shift? EmptyFri 03 Apr 2020, 13:12

@Meles meles wrote:

... and so I aboard and my boy, Tom, and there very merrily we sailed to below Gravesand .... "

"Very merrily" in Pepys's time also had a slightly different meaning than today, at least when it came to journeys. It was used to denote the sensation of time passing quickly due to the absence of interruptions or other forms of vexation.

Ten days before your entry above he recorded this - and to modern eyes, given the context of the occasion (which also puts our own travails these days into perspective) as set out in his first few sentences, his choice of "merrily" might have seemed a tad insensitive. However given that he simply wants to convey that his coach journey occasioned no further cause for disquiet, it's an excellent choice of phrase.

Thursday, September 7th 1665, Samuel Pepys wrote:
Up by 5 of the clock, mighty full of fear of an ague, but was obliged to go, and so by water, wrapping myself up warm, to the Tower, and there sent for the Weekely Bill, and find 8,252 dead in all, and of them 6,878 of the plague; which is a most dreadfull number, and shows reason to fear that the plague hath got that hold that it will yet continue among us. Thence to Brainford, reading “The Villaine,” a pretty good play, all the way. There a coach of Mr. Povy’s stood ready for me, and he at his house ready to come in, and so we together merrily to Swakely, Sir R. Viner’s.


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PostSubject: Re: shiftless = no-shift?   shiftless = no-shift? EmptyFri 03 Apr 2020, 17:51

Another  engaging look at our quirky language - which like all else has muddled on through the ages and only appears - like other aspects of our muddled progress - to confuse foreigners (assorted.)

Words like listless...…… a very English complaint of those with time on their hands.

And feckless...….. I wonder how that came about?
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PostSubject: Re: shiftless = no-shift?   shiftless = no-shift? EmptyFri 03 Apr 2020, 18:02

"Feckless" began life in Northern England and the Scottish Borders region along with its then more popular form "Feckful", which described someone or something that was "full of effect" - as in vigorous and dynamic. Very few popular authors who wrote in these dialects gained national popularity. One was Burns, who used both terms but who (despite current perception) was never really popular in his lifetime south of the border so his influence on language was probably more subdued than it might have been, and another was Thomas Carlyle, who certainly strove to be very popular among the Anglos (he worshipped Oliver Cromwell as "the perfect man") and used the "feckless" form very much, especially about his fellow Scots (and never in relation to the Lord Protector). Thanks to him especially the word is now known even to the most atavistic ex-colonial muddling through a recreation of the Raj in darkest Kent.
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nordmann
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PostSubject: Re: shiftless = no-shift?   shiftless = no-shift? EmptySat 04 Apr 2020, 12:26

@Priscilla wrote:

Words like listless...…… a very English complaint of those with time on their hands.

Until you check where it came from, and then you find it's still a very Norwegian or Danish (lystløs) and German (lustlos) complaint too. It literally means "absence of pleasure" and, as you know, is a synonym for "apathetic". Except in Sweden of course where, being Swedish, they have developed a bad conscience about it all and despite having a language also developed from the same root have instead opted to use the term "likgiltig" - "happiness guilty".

Your rather Anglocentrically biased statement reminds me of the line from that renowned epic of the silver screen "Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country":

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PostSubject: Re: shiftless = no-shift?   shiftless = no-shift? EmptySat 04 Apr 2020, 13:37

Is the fact that 'shifty' and 'shiftess'  share  a first syllable co-incidental?  'Shifty' has a meaning of perhaps someone being slightly sinister, a bit 'off' (not only a dictinary definition).  N.B. I am not saying shiftess and shifty mean the same thing as they obviously don't.  Not many  if you re0ad this you'll see I seem to have edcaped the problem I reported 0about being locked out of site though am still making typing errors on phone.

Edit:
 I  can't move the cursor bacķ to earlier wording but I shouldn't have put the word 'only' in the wordsin parentheses.


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PostSubject: Re: shiftless = no-shift?   shiftless = no-shift? EmptySat 04 Apr 2020, 14:06

LiR wrote:
Is the fact that 'shifty' and 'shiftess'  share  a first syllable co-incidental?

Not at all, they do indeed come from the same root. "Shifty", like "nice", is one of those words that has completely reversed its meaning over time. In fact they both describe opposite aspects to a similar character trait, as well as being polar opposites to their original meanings, which makes one wonder if they passed each other as they travelled in their respective directions and for a brief moment actually meant almost the same thing.

A "shifty" person, prior to the 16th century, was someone who was remarkably adept at utilising limited resources to expedient ends. It was a huge compliment, in fact, even if it did invite some curiosity as to how such expediency had been achieved. By Shakespeare's time it had started to be associated with more underhand tricks, as when Antony tells Cleo "Now I must ... dodge and palter in the shifts of lowness" when he regrets that he's going to have to lie and pretend to be humble to Octavius, who he regards as an impertinent young whippersnapper, but a young whippersnapper who's just whippersnapped his ass in battle (as the Taylor/Burton version probably had it).

By the early 20th century this possibility of a shifty person being devious had now become almost an exclusive certainty, but amazingly it still hadn't acquired a totally negative connotation - Thomas Edison was described by his wife Mina as the "most marvellous and shiftiest man I have ever known" (she meant to compliment his ingenuity, not his patent stealing). But as the century progressed, so too did the reputation of shifty people degenerate further, so that now we hardly give them credit for intelligence at all, the very quality that had defined the term from its inception, whether used to good or ill ends.

shiftless = no-shift? Mina_Edison_1906
Edison's second wife Mina in 1906.
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PostSubject: Re: shiftless = no-shift?   shiftless = no-shift? EmptySat 04 Apr 2020, 16:10

Listless -  also me going shopping  way back in history, last month.

Or is that noteless?

Or gormless? Do tell. who actually does have lots of gorm?
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PostSubject: Re: shiftless = no-shift?   shiftless = no-shift? EmptySat 04 Apr 2020, 18:03

@Priscilla wrote:
Or gormless? Do tell. who actually does have lots of gorm?

Wary Vikings with good eyesight, I imagine. Or at least their descendants, who apparently are to be found also in England and who have kept alive the old nørren word "gaumr" (attention) in the negative form "without 'gaum'" (presumably once applied to careless Vikings who coudn't see what was in front of their noses - or norses maybe). The only language that keeps its positive form these days is Icelandic, which itself is a form of Norwegian "frozen" in time from about a thousand years ago, and where you may still be encouraged by a teacher or other authority to "gi ekte gaum" (pay special attention) to an important instruction.

So, please be gormful of the fact that it has been replaced in norse languages largely with "akt", and in English by the noun form of "heed".
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