By Ruth Marcus
Indulge me, please, while I rant about my new least favorite word: shed.
Not as in dog hair. As in jobs. As in, “The economy shed (fill in the blank) jobs last month.”
Brace yourself for another spate of shedding when the next unemployment report is released.
I don’t know how shed became the go-to journalistic verb to describe job loss, but I think my profession should stop this usage. Shedding implies something unnecessary or unwanted.
“To eject, slough off, or lose as part of the normal processes of life,” my Merriam-Webster’s instructs. “To rid oneself of temporarily or permanently as superfluous or unwanted.”
What a gruesome image when it comes to people losing jobs.
Shedding is bad. Soldiers shed blood. Snakes shed skin. Children shed tears. Infected people shed viruses. Shedding light is, I admit, good. God sheds His grace on thee. But that’s about it.
How did shedding migrate from shaggy dogs to job loss? The Oxford English Dictionary cites The Economist of March 1975, “the industry shed about 100,000 of its workforce.” In the last three months alone, a computer search of news reports shows 2,116 uses of the term in connection with jobs, from Ireland to Fiji.
You can imagine how the term took hold. Financial writers became bored with saying the economy lost jobs. Shed is evocative. Shed worked for copy editors trying to cram the news into a headline only a few columns wide.
But what might have been compactly colorful is now unnecessarily insensitive—not to mention trite. Lost is a better four-letter word.
Even the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the official tallier of the nation’s joblessness, stoops to shed.
“There is not a policy on when it’s used,” said Stacey Standish of the BLS. “We try to use those types of descriptive words consistently, but there’s no set time on when we use certain words.”
How about never? Perhaps shed does not rise to the level of an executive order, but if I were the head of the BLS, or secretary of labor, I’d put a stop to it. If the government can’t do a better job of stemming job losses, at least it could describe the disappointing results in a more sensitive way.
Ruth Marcus’ e-mail address is marcusr(at symbol)washpost.com.
© 2010, Washington Post Writers Group