Journeymen and crafting

Elsewhere I’ve written about choosing words that reflect the differences between a secondary-world culture and our own. Previously it was about husbands and wives in a matrifocal culture. This time, I want to ruminate about workers: apprentices, journeymen, and masters.

(Blogging from A-Z letter J)

My craftspeople have the usual three-tiered classification of skill levels: apprentice (between 8-10 in my world), journeyman (around late teens to 20, possibly earlier or later because promotion depends on producing a high-quality test piece), and master (older, but definitely needing a “masterpiece” work). But I wasn’t happy with the connotations associated with some of the usual words for the ranks.

I didn’t feel comfortable having my egalitarian society use gendered words (at least, not in situations where I could think of a good alternative). I decided that I’d translate “journeyman” from its gendered Norman French roots into a neutral English one, so I called that role “day-worker.” The critical promotion to journeyman required a level of skill good enough to work unsupervised, and allowed them to be paid by the day (journée, “daily”).

Traditionally apprentices were “indentured,” meaning they were bound to their master for the duration of their contract. The word comes from the practice of duplicate contracts , which were “indented” by tearing off a corner so they could be matched up if there were any disputes about forgeries (hard to do with parchment, I imagine, but my source was about ancient Egypt, which had papyrus). I hadn’t thought about “apprentice” and “apprenticed” before writing this post, but am at the moment tending to go with “learnling” (if I want something a little different from what readers would expect) or just “beginner” for the noun. For “apprenticed” I might go with “bonded” though I’m undecided about whether the society has indentures at all. They might see learnlings as fostered instead of indentured.

And the reason for that is cultural: their society is peaceful and relatively egalitarian, and they have no concept of “masters” and “slaves.” Those foreign ideas are introduced by invaders, who are from a warlike patriarchal culture. I long ago read a speculation that the idea of enslaving people started with putting prisoners of war to involuntary work, and that subjugating parts of one’s own population arose from keeping foreign slaves. As with many things in speculative fiction, it doesn’t matter if that’s the way things actually happened on Earth, as long as it’s plausible in the fictional world.

So what would substitute for “master?” I’ve had two thoughts. For crafters, I could use “shaper” as the title of a truly expert member of the profession. I’ve already used the word “grand-shaper” in place of “grand-master” in the current partial draft. For teachers and people with authority over beginners I’ve pretty much settled on “mentor” such as “mentor of novices” and “craft-mentor.”

The current draft has a guild system, though I haven’t got far enough in researching these terms to find out whether guilds existed in the New Stone Age or Bronze Age; the sources I found in a quick search all refer to the Middle Ages. Traditionally guilds were organized to maintain standards, but they evolved to keep non-guild practitioners from entering the field.

For religious hierarchies the words we are used to for beginners are “novice” and “acolyte.” I could use learnling for beginners, but for the moment it doesn’t feel quite right. When I looked up “acolyte” I found old roots translatable as “follower.”

As with any worldbuilding, it’s easy to fall into the black hole of tome-writing. But in this case I wanted to “get it right” to convey in a very few words that this society differs in significant ways from ours. Besides, for a word freak, this is recreation almost as much as writing preparation.

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