Getting Some Peace over Pay; Word Expert Alexander Tulloch Tries to Make Senses of Cash and Industrial Relations

Article excerpt

Byline: Alexander Tulloch

Strike action is coming back into the news. Recent months have seen the firemen, London tube drivers and railway employees call or threaten to call one or two-day strikes in support of their demands for better working conditions. BA pilots are currently discussing the issue.

And we all know what that means, don't we? Nine times out of ten when union leaders start demanding 'better working conditions' for their members what they are really saying is that they want more money in their pay packets at the end of the week.

In English we have a sort of blanket term for the money people receive in exchange for their labour, pay. The origin of this word is the Latin pax 'peace' and the verb pacare 'to satisfy,' so the basic idea is that pay is simply money given to workers to satisfy them and keep them quiet!

It would seem then that the Romans had sussed out the psychology of industrial relations over two thousand years ago. Traditionally, of course, in this country we have several terms for the payment we receive each week or month. The so-called 'blue collar' workers receive a weekly 'wage' and this word might surprise some readers with its linguistic connections. The Anglo-Saxon wedd, to which it is related, meant 'a pledge' and as such was originally an amount of money 'pledged' by an employer to a hired labourer. But the Anglo-Saxon term also gave us the words 'wedding' (when two people pledge themselves to each other) and 'wager' (where a gambler pledges a certain amount of money against the outcome of a race etc. …