As a modest lexical tribute to Steve Jobs, I thought it might be useful to remind ourselves of the origin of his surname-word - defined only in its singular form, of course - by noting that it is a word possessed of connotations considerably less stellar and uplifting than those attached to the  astonishingly gifted co-founder of Apple Computer.

As it happens the first sense of Job in English also stems from a surname. The Biblically-recorded patriarch of the land named Uz was named Iobe, and as the story has it, he was man revered for enduring poverty and privation. So legendary was his stoicism, indeed,  that his name - which since the 13th century has been given an affricative, and rendered as Job - has come to stand for a figure with endless patience and fortitude.

More commonly - though lexicographically a little more puzzling - the word job , without a capital initial, has also come to mean

A piece of work; esp. a small and discrete piece of work done as part of one's regular occupation or profession.

The first use of this sense is recorded in 1557. There is a continuing debate, however. It ranges around whether this word - of unknown origin, it has to be confessed - first strictly meant just a piece of work, or whether it meant a piece of the results of work. For there is sense, dating from three years later, 1560, where jobbe (as it was then spelled) came to be used to designate

 A cartload; the amount that a horse and cart can bring at one time

Scholars are still searching for which of these senses (and there are many more) truly came first. It is part of the great joy of the lexicographic art that so many still feel compelled to track down just what a well-known English word really meant, at the moment it was first gathered into our language.

That small controversy aside, one thing is for sure, however: in the nicest possible sense, Steve Jobs himself was indeed a piece of work, unique and unforgettable. Appositely named, maybe, though with a hint of an enduring enigma about him also.



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  • Gregg Hamilton

    Indeed, Shakespeare's phrasing fits few people as aptly as Steve Jobs: "What piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving, how express and admirable in action, how like an angel in apprehension, how like a god!"