Monday, January 21, 2013

words indicating labour in most european languages originate in an imagery of compulsion, torment, affliction and persecution

guardian | In the modern experience, poverty is closely associated with unemployment or the absence of work. Since the earliest poor laws, work has been advocated as the remedy for poverty. Politicians repeatedly tell us that "work must pay" and that, like the good woman in the Book of Proverbs, none should eat "the bread of idleness". Setting the poor to labour has been seen as the surest guarantor of combating poverty; and the Christian era has been dominated by the idea of a fair reward for an honest day's work. The labourer is worthy of his hire.

But work has not always been a way out of poverty. For it is also axiomatic that it is the lot of humankind to labour, and not necessarily in the hope of achieving more than a bare subsistence. The etymology of all the words for "work" in European languages suggests work as coercion, certainly not for the prosperity of the worker, but as a fulfilment of human destiny. Ecclesiastes 3:22 declares: "There is nothing better than that a man should rejoice in his own works; for that is his portion." Words indicating labour in most European languages originate in an imagery of compulsion, torment, affliction and persecution. The French word travail (and Spanish trabajo), like its English equivalent, are derived from the Latin trepaliare – to torture, to inflict suffering or agony. The word peine, meaning penalty or punishment, also is used to signify arduous labour, something accomplished with great effort. The German Arbeit suggests effort, hardship and suffering; it is cognate with the Slavonic rabota (from which English derives "robot"), a word meaning corvee, forced or serf labour. In romance languages, words from the Latin laborare have come to mean ploughing or tilling the earth, although in Italian, lavoro also means work in general. The Latin meaning was anything accomplished with difficulty and struggle.


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