Goldbrick derivation

Reply Sat 17 Jun, 2006 09:50 am
What is the derivation of the term "goldbrick" as used to describe someone who avoids work or shirks their responsibility? It would seem to me that a gold brick would be something valuable, and that calling someone a gold brick should be a compliment...?
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Reply Sat 17 Jun, 2006 10:32 am
Equus, I had forgotten that term. Here's what I found:

Definition 1: (1) A bar of gold; (2) a shirker, a faker, anyone who dodges work or duties.

Usage 1: Obviously, today's word may refer to a brick cast from gold. Interestingly, it is no longer used in that sense. Bricks now refer almost exclusively to the building material and gold bars are called "ingots." In fact, today's word is probably used more frequently now as a verb than as a noun: to goldbrick means "to shirk or only pretend to work, to avoid shouldering one's duties."

Suggested usage: Goldbricking is a symptom of an ailing workplace, so it is found anywhere there is a job to be done, "The company went down under the sheer weight of the goldbricks it accumulated over the years." It is well beyond irony when the goldbricks at Enron ended up with all the gold. This word is another we inherited from military life (see 'Warspeak: Linguistic Collateral Damage' in our Library). In 'Once there was a War' (1959), John Steinbeck wrote, "In the ranks, billeted with the stinking, cheating, foul-mouthed goldbricks, there were true heroes."

Etymology: The second meaning of today's word originated in the late 19th century in reference to a swindle in which a fake goldbrick was created out of base metal except for one corner, which was solid gold. The entire brick was then gold plated. The mountebank behind the scheme would then offer the brick for sale in hope that some naïf would test the corner and buy the brick for solid gold. The colloquial sense of a goldbrick then became "a fake" and by World War I it was applied to those who faked wounds to avoid combat. By World War II it referred to any kind of shirker in the Army, a sense which was absorbed by the general vocabulary after the war. (Deb Trimmer is certainly no goldbrick, having done an excellent job in suggesting we look into this word's story.)
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