An amusing and perhaps useful list of occupations, some of which have merely shifted in usage (ADMINISTRATOR – directed the affairs of another) and some of which have sunk into deep oblivion are still in use, unbeknownst to me until I read my comments (AGISTER – official of the Royal Forests or in the New Forest it is the title for the one in charge of the ponies). There’s no indication of where or when these were in use (some are medieval, some clearly twentieth-century), but that’s what dictionaries are for. My favorite so far: BADGER – licensed pauper who wore a badge with the letter P on it and could only work in a defined area. (Via MetaFilter.)


  1. dungbeattle says

    In the next few years their will many more as we get robots at the checkout counters;

  2. Agister would make sense to me – given that we still use the word “agist” to describe the care of horses for hire.

  3. Agister is still in use in the New Forest, as is verderer – just google!

  4. Well, whaddaya know! I stand corrected.

  5. not SCREEVER…? that’s what Dick Van Dyke
    is in MARY POPPINS (someone who draws pictures
    on the sidewalk for passers-by). –i once
    won tickets to a Crystal Gayle concert for
    my own effort in a Valentine’s Day competition
    (abstract category). but that’s another story.

  6. I have run across the occupation “pail turner” I can’t find this on any lists of obsolete occupations so I’m hoping you might either know the answer or have an idea where I might look.
    Thank you

  7. John Cowan says

    Well, this is the top ghit for pail turner, so it would be good to have an answer. It is clearly an occupation, as it turns up in genealogies (which often say what someone’s occupation is) and in lists of jobs. I found one hit in a clearly modern list of job requirements, so it’s not obsolete, just obscure. Pail turners are operatives in pail factories.

    Turner has been used for lathe-workers since 1415, per the OED. However, I also found one reference to a sheet pail turner, where sheet presumably means ‘sheet metal’. It’s obvious looking at the seam on a modern sheet-metal pail that it’s not turned on a metal lathe, so evidently the term can be used now for a maker of pails of any kind, not just wooden ones.

    But that was as far as I got until it occurred to me to look up bucket turner, and here it is with the following description:

    Operates bucket-turning machine to smooth and finish outer surfaces of wooden buckets: Clamps bucket between chucks of machine and removes assembling ring from bucket with hammer. Starts machine to rotate bucket. Pushes lever on tool carriage to feed tool along surface of bucket, finishing bucket surface. Smooths surface of bucket, using block covered with sandpaper. Places temporary hoop on bucket and removes it from machine.

    So the “machine” in question is a modified lathe, and the reference to hoops shows that the buckets in question are made by cooperage (I first thought that at least some wooden buckets were made directly on a lathe). From another source I see that the average income of a bucket turner in the U.S. is about $28K.

    A few notes: Pail is a technical term in the shipping industry for a metal shipping container in the shape of a bucket, with a handle but also with a lid that seals in the contents, like a paint container. To bakers, a pail holds 3.5 gallons or less, a bucket 5 gallons or more. In common use, though, bucket and pail are pretty much interchangeable, though mop and kick collocate with bucket. In the early 20C there was an isogloss across the Eastern U.S., roughly the Northern/Midland one, with pail to the north. Lastly, the set of tools a child takes to the beach is a bucket and spade in BrE, a pail and shovel in AmE (either can be reversed).

  8. Excellent sleuthing!

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