by Pari

Yesterday, Gar wrote eloquently about the paucity of thought that often goes into single-word movie, television and book titles (and blog titles?). As is the case with most of my wonderful blog-mates’ posts, I’ll need to think about that one for a while to see where I stand on the issue.

However, that particular contemplation might be especially difficult right now because I seem to be living in the land of dissection of single words. For some reason, I’ve become a serial analyzer, fixating on one word and then another, wanting to hold what looks like a single-cell concept under a crystalline magnifying glass to discover its true fractal nature.

For example, when I started to consider a topic for today’s post, I immediately wanted to tie it to the idea of Labor Day. So like the good little blogger that I am, I went to the Dept of Labor for an explanation of the holiday.  Once I read that, I felt utterly unqualified to write about it; I don’t know enough about the labor movement, don’t know how I feel about unions or what happened in Wisconsin etc etc etc . . .

Frankly, “labor” to me will always first mean the work I went through to have my babies.

Okay, so labor is work is . . . what is work? What does it really mean? And so it began.

Work is a word with rich depths, isn’t it? Even the dictionary can’t define it in a single sentence. No, there are too many meanings, too many layers to this noun/verb. The more I thought about it, the more I wanted to explore it. How is the term used in daily parlance? At its base does the verb merely mean expending energy? Or is it tied to intentional effort? Is breathing work? Not for most of us. However, it certainly is if you’ve got emphysema.

Does work need a result, a product, to truly be work? That’s what the noun would imply, wouldn’t it? What about struggling with a question that has no answer? Is the time spent thereon work? Do philosophers work when they think? Is a child working when she watches a butterfly sip perspiration from her hand? Is learning work?

Right about now, some of you might be thinking I have too much time on my hands. Or, if you’re Gar, you might be feeling the urge to chew off your arm in frustration.

But I find this stuff fascinating. Is work work if we enjoy it? What would a Puritan answer? How about a hedonist?

As a writer I “work” daily at my craft – but the result might be only a sentence. Is that work if it’s such a small bit of effort? Is it work if I write quickly and have fun doing it? Is it somehow more validly work if I suffer for my craft?

Is reading work? We know it is if it’s for school or a job. But is it work if we do it at night before we go to bed? If we study an author’s approach to story to learn more about craft, is it work? Is it work to go to a movie and analyze it according to Alex’s brilliant techniques?

Hell if I know . . .
Was it work to read this blog?

Questions for today:

What word do you find fascinating?

Happy Labor Day to you all! I’m home and looking forward to the conversation.



28 thoughts on “Work

  1. Gerald So

    Hi, Pari. As you point out, work is a relative term, but I tend to stick with its clearer definitions: doing something, moving something from one place to another. Thinking is work only if it leads to doing. One can have thousands of thoughts in a day, but where do they end up?

    Reading is more work than watching a movie, IMO, because it engages the imagination. Writing is more work than reading because we have to find our own words, not just take in someone else's.

    Because I think of work simply as action, I don't attach negative connotations to work and positive ones to play. Some work can be fulfilling and fun; other work can be drudgery. I'd rather do something that requires creative thinking.

    As a poet, I'm constantly fascinated by any number of words. Lately, I've wondered why "sleight" isn't pronounced "slate". Is it the same reason "height" is not pronounced "hate"? If so, why is that? 🙂

  2. Reine

    No. Not work.
    Good thinking time.
    The word fractal. Pieces fascinate.j
    And the shape of poetry as a visual gift,
    That bends sound like Gerald So on crime alive.
    Poetry. Clear. Sharp. Awake. The fractals of crime poetry.

  3. Pari Noskin

    What a wonderful comment to wake up to. Thank you for its many layers and the poetry within each paragraph (should I call them "stanzas" here?).

    Height — hate. Wow. There are so many directions an active mind could go with that one.

    Work as doing . . . action. I like the simplicity of that, the clarity of it.

  4. Pari Noskin

    When I wrote this piece, I didn't expect poetry . . . and yet I've received two gifts in these first two comments today. Gerald's was poetry in narrative. Yours is poetry given so beautifully

    "Poetry. Clear. Sharp. Awake. The fractals of crime poetry. " Single word sentences leading to that wonderful expansion. Every word — poetry . . . clear . . . sharp . . . awake . . . an entire story in itself.

  5. PK the Bookeemonster

    I am appreciating the day off but I find it humorous that we have a "labor day" and we celebrate it by not working.
    Or I guess in my household this weekend, we are being busy. I'm working on my newsletter and helping my husband fix the dishwasher. 🙂

  6. Sarah W

    If Labor meant childbirth, they'd have to extend the weekend by a couple of days . . .

    I'm always fascinated by my older daugher's spelling words and why the teacher chose these particular ones — cylinder, fatal, feature, jet, marine, scar, vessel — for a single list. Blends and letter combinations? Word recognition for a strange story? Could she be taking these from the newspaper or channelling the last season of Lost?

    I'd ask, but it's more fun to contemplate. But I'm trying to resist using these lists as a sort of semantic horoscope . . .

  7. Allison Davis

    Work is a place for me — when I'm "at work" I practice law. Right now, I am at the beach watching pelicans dive, feeding in the flat, gray water. Fog blanket muffles the waves crashing, dogs frolicking, people walking, a palette of grays. I've been writing at the beach for four days. I did some work-work, too. Even "working" here doesn't feel like "work" because of where I am. I like words that can be verbs or nouns like "work" or like "wave." (It's early, everyone else in the house is still asleep.)

  8. Zoë Sharp

    Work is what you make it. If you enjoy your work, no matter what that work happens to be, does that make it any less deserving of the name than if you hate it?

    Very nicely put, Gerald.

    Interesting words? How about cleave, meaning both to divide and to unite.

  9. Fran

    I work at so many different things, and I think we all do. That's a versatile word, "work".

    I have the work I'm paid to do (and I'm lucky enough to love it).

    I have my written work-in-progress which may never see the light of day but it pleases me to continue to work on it.

    I work at things around the house (but not as much as I should, I'm a rotten housekeeper).

    I work at my relationship with Lillian, but is it really work? And yet they say that maintaining a relationship takes constant work. . .

    I work at being a better person, and that's definitely an uphill battle on some days!

    Such a variety of uses for one little workhorse of a word.

    But now, after typing it so much, it suddenly looks wierd. Do words ever do that to you? Work work work work work. It looks like it should be pronounced to rhyme with "dork". Gods but I love the English language!

    What a great linguistic post, Pari. Thanks!

  10. Pari Noskin

    You're a word smith in everything you do. I look forward to visiting the new blog.

    I actually had a line about that in this post, but decided to cut it. This holiday has always amused me. Of course, now that I'm in the labor force . . . it has a new meaning. Maybe we should call it, "Grateful to be off of work day.'

    Like Louise, I am loving those lists. I felt the same way about my kids' English vocab lists. Perhaps we should work to make poems of them since this feels like a lyrical day.

  11. Micki D

    There are just too many words to have only one to find fascinating. I am pharmacist. I have worked in counties with heavy German and Czech influences. I find many of their names fascinating.. one in particular KRC(Krsch)…

  12. David Corbett

    Coming from a math background, I may give thought more credit as work than Gerald does. I also watch movies as work, looking through to the plumbing, as it were. I never just passively watch. The curse of a writer. Even looking has an element of inspection, searching for material, or at least meaning.

    And yet, fixing the disposal that mysteriously has gone on the blink, and the reset button won't work — that would be work, if I had a clue what to do, which I don't, so I won't.

    Off to ride my bike. That's not work. That's exercise. And sheer pleasure. (If the state of California would let me, I'd marry that lovely little machine.)

    Have a great holiday, everyone! Thanks, Pari, for the food for thought, which is work, or not.

    P.S. My phone just rang. Apparently recorded messages from the library aren't taking the day off.

  13. Pari Noskin

    Beautiful, Allison. I'm glad you're writing now; I can see its influence in your comment. You also bring into clear view the conundrum of words and their many meanings . . . work doesn't feel like work, work as location . . .

    I don't know. One of the reasons I asked so many questions is that we do imbue words with more meanings than the dictionary could ever capture. My life's work . . .work as play . . .

    And "Cleave?" Yes, this is a word that deserves much more attention.

    I love your comments too. Every example of "work" — "werk"
    And yes, words do that to me all the time. Sometimes even my name seems weird to me — unfamiliar in a way — as if it belongs to someone else.

  14. Pari Noskin

    Heh heh heh, Micki. By the way, how would one pronounce "krsch?" I did love Russian for the mouthfuls of consonants with nary a vowel.

    Enjoy your love affair with the bike.
    Get that book back to the library!
    Happy holiday to you, too.

  15. JT Ellison

    Labor Day is the end of my year, so it's a time of great reflection – and WORK. My to do list is insane today.

    Thanks for the thoughts, Pari. I too agree that one word can be more than enough.

  16. Pari Noskin

    What wisdom on this Labor Day — to remember you still love to do what might become work. I like that very much.

    Don't work yourself ragged today. Remember there are 364 more days to get things done in your new year.

  17. Reine

    But PK Labor Day means our grandparents and great-grandparents fought for the right for us to have a day off.

  18. Reine

    David, use the little off-set allen wrench that came with the disposal. Stick it into the flywheel hole. Make sure you unplug the disposal first, or shut off the breaker switch.

  19. PD Martin

    Work often does have negative connotations, doesn't it!? But as many have said, a lot of people love their work. Or maybe we should be looking at the difference between the words "job" and "work".

    In terms of writing, I did notice a slight shift in my approach once I got that first deal and had a deadline. Writing seemed to become more like work. Was it the deadline or the fact that I was paid for my own creative writing for the first time? I'm not sure. But it's still work I LOVE. Good point, Alafair!

    At the moment I have two types of work – work for clients (which I'd prefer not to be doing, but I still enjoy) and MY work (working on my book). It's all still writing, so I enjoy it all. I just enjoy one more than the other.


  20. Gerald So


    I don't want to shortchange the role of thought. I guess it's idle thought that I don't see as work because it isn't put toward a goal. We can see things without looking/watching and hear things without listening. The latter words show more participation.

    One can also argue for the role of subconscious thought. We often come up with solutions when we aren't as focused on the problem, but I'd say if we're not conscious of doing something, it's not as much work.

  21. Pari Noskin

    I'm lucky that I enjoy most of the work I have to do. I just don't enjoy having to do it in a defined time period.

    I wonder about thought. Sometimes it definitely feels like work to me, while others it's a vacation . . . isn't it?

  22. Gerald So

    I agree, Pari. Again I'd say that if thoughts are directed toward a goal, they are work (e.g. "I need to think of the best order for the errands I'm doing today," "I need to think of how to tell a client about the changes I'd like to make.").

    And then there are the thoughts we have while doing rote tasks. These are only work if we have to force ourselves (e.g. "I'm bored; I've got to think of something to distract myself.").

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