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Monday, 10 January, 2000, 22:13 GMT
Your job's worth more than you are

The stress mounts...

Cherie Blair has taken her penalty fare with "good grace", not complaining about the way she was fined for not having a ticket on her train journey to Luton.

She has made no claim that she should have been let off, or that she was being treated unreasonably.

She and the employee at the ticket office evidently dealt with the situation in a perfectly adult manner.

For many people, however, the stress of not having the correct ticket for a train or bus journey can lead to a particularly uncomfortable feeling... fear that they just might encounter a jobsworth.

Jobsworth - a minor factotum whose only status comes from enforcing otherwise petty regulations
Jonathon Green's Dictionary of Slang, Cassell, 1998
Few stereotypes are hated more than a jobsworth. Everyone has met one at one time or another. The breed is well known.

To many people's minds, the term conjurs images of small-minded, petty individuals, exercising their authority unreasonably over people who have made genuine errors, and take pleasure in humiliating decent folk.

Getting a ticket- good way to avoid grief
Someone who has been caught out by a jobsworth, will probably accuse them of being an embittered, mean-spirited inadequate who are using their status to give themselves faux importance, justifying their actions by their twin mantras of "Rules is rules" and, inevitably, "It's more than my job's worth."

It's easy to understand the temptation to be a jobsworth, though. If you have a real fear of losing your job, why should you risk making an unnecessary mistake for someone who has not played by the rules? Following a clear rule is always going to be easier than exercising a difficult discretion.

But so loathed is the breed of jobsworths, that newspapers are regularly filled with stories of inspectors, collectors and officials refusing to turn a blind eye to someone short of one pence, or 30 seconds late to hand a form in, or simply give someone the benefit of the doubt.

Esther Rantzen on That's Life, championing those who faced jobsworths
Esther Rantzen's That's Life programme once was in the habit of handing out a "Jobsworth of the Week" commissionaire's hat to a startling tale of going by the book.

Jonathon Green's Dictionary of Slang says the word has been current since the 1970s, a time in many people's minds when there was rather a lot of "can't do" attitude about.

If That's Life had still been running, it may well have given its award to a council officer who launched a prosecution against a man who threw a crisp packet out of his van window. (He was found not guilty.)

Or the woman who was caught out by holding her husband's fishing rod while he put a maggot on the hook. She was holding the rod, but it was her husband who had the licence to fish, and inspectors caught her.

Or the American officials who suspended a pub's licence for three days, because they said topless male dancers broke a law against the showing of bare breasts.
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10 Jan 00 |  UK Politics
PM's wife pays penalty fare
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