Highland Woodworking Wood News Online, No. 149, January 2018Welcome to Highland Woodworking - Fine Tools & Education Learn more about Highland Woodworking View our current woodworking classes and seminars Woodworking articles and solutions Subscribe to Wood News
The Down to Earth Woodworker
By Steven D. Johnson
Racine, Wisconsin

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Are You A Journeyman? Journeywoman? Journeyperson?

Notwithstanding the non-political-correctness of the word itself (should it be "journeyperson?") I was deeply offended by the online dictionary definitions I ran across recently.

The screen saver on my computer scrolls random words across, periodically landing on one for a few seconds and showing its definition. For a person who dearly loves words… an aspiring wordsmith, you might say… it is the perfect screensaver for me. Most of the time the words scrolling past are words I already know (that sounds a bit pretentious, but, alas, it's true), so I give them only a cursory glance, but occasionally a word catches my eye and I freeze the screen to read the definition.

When the word "journeyman" appeared, I gave it only a cursory glance, since we all know what it means to be a journeyman carpenter, electrician, pipe fitter, etc. But my quick glance caused me to freeze the screen and I took a closer look. Then I got a little angry.

Figure 10 - Closing in on 40 years old,
and still a trusted resource.
The definition I saw was:

"a worker or sports player who is reliable but not outstanding"

So, I looked at another online dictionary and this is what it said:

"any experienced, competent but routine worker or performer"

Here is another one:

"any sound, experienced, but not brilliant craftsman or performer"

Frustrated, I grabbed my old-fashioned hard-copy dictionary, published in 1978 and as tattered and well-worn as you might expect. The definition of journeyman in my trusted mainstay dictionary is:

"an experienced reliable workman in any field"

Personally, I would be proud as punch to be called a "journeyman," and punch I might, if someone suggested I was "not outstanding," was "routine," or "not brilliant." I know a lot of journeyman carpenters, electricians, and plumbers, and respect, and perhaps even envy, their knowledge and expertise. These people (and one is a woman, who, for what it is worth, doesn't mind at all being a "journeyman") spent long hours, worked hard, and learned their crafts well before achieving the status of "journeyman." In our neck of the woods, an apprentice cannot be sent to a new job site by him- or her- self… they must be accompanied by a journeyman to assess the scope of work, lay out the plan, and get the work started. And only work done by, or supervised by, a journeyman can possibly pass inspection. A journeyman electrician friend of mine, for example, often has five or six jobs going at one time, and he visits each one every day, works a little at each, and supervises and teaches the apprentices on the site all along. Does this sound like someone who is "not outstanding" or a "routine worker?" I'm not just angered by these spurious online definitions, but I am offended, incensed, outraged. And it makes me wonder how many other online dictionary definitions are just flat-out wrong or misleading.

Okay, that's my rant for now. I only wish I could qualify as a journeyman writer, but I will keep working hard and try to learn and better myself along the way. But be assured… when I need a word or a definition, I will henceforth and forever more, turn to my trusty tattered 40-year old dictionary. And I will, forevermore, imagine that the people writing definitions for the new online dictionaries must be, by their own flawed definitions, journeymen… not brilliant craftsmen and not outstanding.

The Under-The-Tablesaw Storage, Utility, and Infeed Cabinet project has reached the point where work can move ahead now more rapidly… the legs are finally glued-up! It was tricky, this glue-up, with multiple parts and long miters, so be sure to watch as I fumble and bumble my way through it in the latest installment of the series by clicking here.

In this glorious New Year I hope all of you aspire to be journeymen (and journeywomen) woodworkers, experienced and reliable, always learning, always striving for excellence. And I hope that you achieve at least some, if not all, of your goals. And I hope and pray that you will be safe, healthy, and full of joy.

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Steven Johnson is retired from an almost 30-year career selling medical equipment and supplies, and now enjoys improving his shop, his skills, and his designs on a full time basis (although he says home improvement projects and furniture building have been hobbies for most of his adult life). Steven can be reached directly via email at sjohnson@downtoearthwoodworking.com

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