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148288.  Sat Feb 17, 2007 10:20 am Reply with quote

Michael Quinion’s entertaining book “Gallimaufry” (OUP, 2006) includes a chapter on job titles which no longer exist. Many of them are taken from Victorian censuses.

A nutter was employed “screwing finished nuts on to the end of their component bolts so they could be sold as one item.”

A faggoter bundled together lengths of scrap metal, for them to be melted and recycled. Not to be confused with a faggot-maker, who worked with wood faggots.

A “doctor maker” made doctors - which were metal scrapers for removing excess colour from the rollers of calico printing machines.

A willyer, as might be expected, operated a willeying machine, “which separated the matted fibres of raw wool, cotton, or flax and cleaned out dirt and foreign matter.”

A “onehanded man” was an agricultural freelance or contract labourer.

A gormer worked in the potteries, packing the kilns with filled saggars.

A burrgrailer removed burrs from the teeth of combs.

A “flong maker” worked in printing, making flongs, “glue-impregnated paper sheets used to create an impression of a page of metal type so copies could be cast.”

Quinion says that in 1927 the Ministry of Labour published a “Dictionary of Occupational Terms,” taken from census data, which listed 17,000 distinct occupations - and didn't include white-collar or professional jobs.

148290.  Sat Feb 17, 2007 10:23 am Reply with quote

How about a peculiar Russian job: "Operator of a cutlet-making machine"?

148291.  Sat Feb 17, 2007 10:24 am Reply with quote

Hello, Vitali - does the cutlet-maker make cutlets?

148481.  Sun Feb 18, 2007 9:01 am Reply with quote

The famous one from What's My Line was a saggar-maker's bottom-knocker, wasn't it?

The Saggar Maker's Bottom Knocker was the saggar maker's assistant, usually a young boy, who was responsible for knocking clay into a large metal hoop using a huge flat mallet called a mawl, to form the bottom of the saggar. The saggar maker would then remove the hoop, and form the sides of the saggar onto the base - a much more skilled job that bottom-knocking (testing for cracks by knocking). Some saggar-makers also had a frame filler, who did a very similar job to the bottom knocker, but prepared the clay to make the sides of the saggars, rather than the bottom.
A saggar is a clay container used to hold ceramic objects when they're in kiln being fired.

148719.  Mon Feb 19, 2007 6:14 am Reply with quote

Tony Robinson's series "The Worst Jobs in History" had quite a few job titles no longer around (at least, as far as I'm aware). These included Buffer Lass, Hurrier, Gut Girl, Reddleman, Wont Catcher, Pure Collector, Hermit, Loblolly Boy, Powder Monkey, Legger, Knocker-up, Chaff-box Boy, Pugger, Link Boy, Sin Eater, etc, etc.

149806.  Wed Feb 21, 2007 8:15 am Reply with quote

One of the world's most dangerous jobs: being a member of a snake-catching co-op in India.

It’s estimated that 30,000 people a year die of snake bites in India. Most of the deaths are, obviously, in rural areas, where open rubber sandals are the most common footwear; early mornings and dark evenings are the most likely times to startle a snake. The Co-operative Group (in the UK) works to supply tea pickers with welly boots.

Rubber tappers are very much at risk from snake bites. When you make a slit in a rubber tree to tap it for latex, you put a plastic hood over it - snakes find these hoods perfect for spending the hot hours of the day.

But snakes are not merely a pest - they are also essential because they eat rats. Rats eat grain, and also make large amounts of it unusable by polluting it with their droppings. Therefore, the Indians don’t want to get rid of the snakes - they just want to not die when bitten by them.

So, the manufacture of anti-venom is big business in India. The anti-venom is made by catching wild snakes, and “milking” them of their poison, which is then injected into horses in sub-lethal doses. The horses produce antibodies, and these are tapped to make the serum for humans.

To get the balance right - between preserving snakes and their habitat, and milking them for anti-venom - is a tricky business. It’s best to send for the experts: The Irula Snake Catchers Co-operative Society, based in Tamil Nadu.

The Irula are aborigines, or “tribals,” or “adivasis.” Tribals make up about 8% of India’s population; 80 million people, according to the 2001 census.

In the past, Irulas caught snakes for their skins, which were made into bags and purses. The Indian Wildlife Act 1972 made that illegal, so it looked as of the Irulas’ way of life was at an end - they would have to move to the cities, to become a new underclass, as has happened to aborigines in so many countries.

Forming the co-op saved them. They catch a quota of four kinds of snake. The animals are held for three weeks, being milked three times. They are then returned to where they were taken from. Before being released, one of their scales is cut. This takes a few months to grow back, and by the time it has done, the venom will be back to full potency. In the meantime, snake catchers know not to collect marked snakes.

The members of the co-op make a good living, being paid per snake, with bonuses for rats, mice and frogs (to feed the captive snakes), and of course there’s the divi.

The snake catching co-op is widely seen as the perfect example of what a co-op is for; this definition of a co-op is from the International Co-operative Alliance Statement of Co-operative Identity: “An autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly owned and democratically controlled enterprise.”

Co-operative News, 27 Dec 06.

149849.  Wed Feb 21, 2007 9:03 am Reply with quote

In Australia, in 1995, nearly 2/3 of the overall working-age population (8, 2 million people) were on some sorts of state benefits.

Source: The Herald-Sun newspaper

149862.  Wed Feb 21, 2007 9:20 am Reply with quote

Another candidate for the most dangerous job in the world seems to be mining in China. According to China Labor Watch ( the official statistics are that more than 6,000 Chinese miners lose their lives every year in accidents. However it is believed that the real figure is considerably higher as operators cover up accidents to avoid fines. China Labor Watch blame the Chinese government's policy of putting economic growth before health and safety.

Talking of dangerous jobs in China, according to the official Xinhua news agency, while miners and police officers are the two most dangerous professions in the country, the third most dangerous occupation is apparently journalism. (

It seems that "An increasing number of reporters are obstructed, scolded, even beaten during interviews". Zhang Chengpu, vice-director of Shengjing Hospital, has helped to set up a foundation to help reporters pay their medical fees if they were attacked or wounded whilst performing interviews.

According to Reporters Without Borders, Chinese journalists who report crime and corruption face increasing incidents of violence. In February, it said a Chinese newspaper editor had died from injuries months after traffic police beat him for an expose about exorbitant electric bicycle licence fees.

154141.  Tue Mar 06, 2007 7:57 am Reply with quote

In the late 1990s, it was routine practice in Russia (due to the currency crisis) to pay workers' salaries with their factories' produce. Known examples of "in kind" payments include wages paid in potatoes, pieces of porcelain, slippers, light bulbs, pianos and even coffins! And a bottle of vodka, of course, was a sort of a “liquid currency”, much more stable and reliable than a rouble. Anything – from a trip abroad to difficult-to-obtain roof tiles, could be bought and sold for vodka, and had its inflation-free vodka equivalent!

154184.  Tue Mar 06, 2007 9:08 am Reply with quote

My guide in St Pete last week said that economic activity in Russia is overwhelmingly based on cash, because people don't trust the banks. If you buy a flat, you do so with a suitcase full of banknotes, apparently.

157883.  Tue Mar 20, 2007 9:57 am Reply with quote


161820.  Sat Mar 31, 2007 5:06 am Reply with quote

I was told recently that my great-grandparents worked as “blanket finishers.” (I imagine you’ll find this is the really clever bit of blanket-making, after the dull stuff has been done by ordinary people like your ancestors).

Since almost everyone is interested in family tree climbing these days, I wonder if it might be worth Stephen asking the panellists what their ancestors did for a living. One or two of them might have an interesting story to tell, or else a filthy joke. Both, in some cases.

162305.  Mon Apr 02, 2007 7:01 am Reply with quote

Q: What was this woman’s job title?
A: She was a typewriter.

(Not a huge fact, admittedly, but a mildly amusing one: that what later became known as typists were originally called typewriters, who did their work on “typewriting machines.” Of course, the younger element in the audience won’t be familiar with the word “typist,” which perhaps undermines the point of the question slightly ... )

162973.  Wed Apr 04, 2007 10:59 am Reply with quote

In Stalin's USSR (in the 1940-50s), one could get up to 25 years in labour camps for being 5 minutes late to work!

163173.  Thu Apr 05, 2007 6:12 am Reply with quote

MatC wrote:
(Not a huge fact, admittedly, but a mildly amusing one: that what later became known as typists were originally called typewriters, who did their work on “typewriting machines.”

c.f. computers


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