Noted Linguist Awards ‘Gig’ the Title of Word of the Year for 2015
Linguist Geoff Nunberg has worked out the Word of the Year for 2015. It’s “gig,” which he calls, “a little word that has tracked the rise and fall of the great American job.” 2015 was the year when a new economic order became evident: the gig economy.
The source of this word musicians use for performance is unclear, but Word Detective’s favorite theory is that it goes back to an old French word, “gigue,” a swirling dance for which a musician might play. Nunberg says that the word’s hipness is deployed in a tongue-in-cheek way in “gig economy,” as if temporary work is cool. Or maybe it’s used in the sense hipster Jack Kerouac used it in 1952, as a job that doesn’t define you.
In any event, the gig economy is being touted as the industrial revolution of our times. According to Nunberg, “The lifetime job is history, we’re told, a victim of technology and the logic of the market. Instead, careers will be a patchwork of temporary projects and assignments.” Companies like the idea, of course, since it frees them from payroll-tax and health-benefit obligations.
Some have called it the “on-demand economy,” or the “peer-to-peer economy.” Modern workers may be “solopreneurs” or “free-range humans” who enjoy “portfolio careers.”
Whatever the terminology, it’s an earth-shaking change. Though Financial Times may tout the gig economy as offering more exciting careers, the resulting lack of security has a profound economic implication: It can be unnervingly impossible to establish a reliable income stream. We’ll have to keep an eye on the long-term psychological effects of that uncertainty on individuals, families, and our society.