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Category:Obsolete occupations (wikipedia.org)
300 points by ve55 on Dec 11, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 247 comments

Here is a fun one: film interpreter (解畫員 in Chinese/Cantonese)

Many many years ago, foreign films (primarily from Hollywood and in English?) were becoming popular in Hong Kong, but the general populace was either too illiterate or didn't speak or read English. Dubbing in Cantonese was inexistent back then (I guess the studios didn't distribute the films to the Hong Kong movie theatre chains or distributors with dialogue and sound effects on separate sound tracks, like they can today thanks to object-based encodings); subtitling was also useless or inexistent (maybe due to lack of technology, and also due to poor literacy levels). So the movie theatres hired film interpreters. The film interpreter would literally stand next to the silver screen during the screening, and verbally explain, in Cantonese, what the actors were saying or relevant English text displayed on screen.

Obviously that wasn't very scalable.

As technology progressed and as the population's literacy and education improved, it became feasible to put subtitles or dub the films in Cantonese. So the job of the film interpreter became obsolete.

Nowadays, the verb (解畫, to interprete a film) has been hijacked to mean something else: to defuse a misunderstanding that was a result of ambiguous or careless wordings in speech between two parties.

IIRC this practice is still common in some African countries. I can’t find the article but I believe it was in Nigeria...?

The creative act of “dubbing” was itself part of the entertainment and often wasn’t actually true to the dialogue in the film.

Edit: found it. Uganda, not Nigeria.


We used to call them "DJ" movies Kenya, and they were particularly popular in rural areas. They were typically shown in "cinemas" which were basically dingy shacks that mothers disapproved of. They also used to edit the movies and redistribute them. They are obsolete now, replaced by guys who torrent movies and sell them on DVDs.

> The creative act of “dubbing” was itself part of the entertainment and often wasn’t actually true to the dialogue in the film.

So basically all of their translations were the equivalent of Bad Lip Reading? Sounds hilarious and frustrating at the same time.

More like Mystery Science Theater 3000.


From a certain perspective, this is the case for all translations, ever.

I don't understand the language in the video, but you mean like this one? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v2sZoMgtEXY

EDIT: so I guess it's only obsolete in some parts of the world.

This movie has a “video joker”: https://youtu.be/KEoGrbKAyKE

To anyone passing by, I cannot recommend this film enough and encourage everyone to see it.

That was oddly fascinating. Thanks for that pointer!

No voice-overs in HK? Dubbing is expensive, voice-over takes couple of hours to record and edit by two man team (dialogue reader and video engineer). In Poland all pirate VHS in the eighties/nineties had voice over funded by pirates themselves, often using same voice talent as legal distributors/TV stations (Everyone over 30 knows the voice of Tomasz Knapik).


fancy, two readers, example (Total Recall): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u7F0VEP3gw4

Good point, but I guess even voice-overs were (from a technological/economical stand-point) out of the question during those olden times. Hong Kong back then was not exactly known to be technologically advanced or even on par with the Western world.

EVERY Movie and every TV series is dubbed for the German market.

It sometimes is hard to find cinemas that offer original voice.

I'm Swedish and we almost never dub entertainment, unless it's for kids. It just drives me insane when I go abroad and listen to the dialogue being completely butchered on TV. Imagine being the director of the movie and seeing this, remembering all the hours you put into directing the actors to give your vision life, and now your work is being mangled.

And then politicians in these countries wonder why they're so bad at English...

in Poland. They do not dub it, they narrate it/ translate it with the most monochordic voice possible. It's like they strip away emotions from language. I cannot stand a full movie like that,as in Portugal we have it the same way you seem to have in sweeden

The same voice too. I love Star Trek the original series with that Polish overdub. Hilarious! But as far as I recall, they actually keep the original soundtrack at the same time? In which case, the Polish voice becomes almost like a subtitle, a neutral translation to the side.

Yes. The original soundtrack is underneath, so if you watch Terminator, you can hear Arnold Schwarzenegger's German accent, not some other actor. It's mostly a matter of what you are used to. For Polish people, the full dubs as they do in Western Europe feel weird and fake, we only dub cartoons and teenager movies such as Harry Potter series.

There's a quasi exception though: French dub of Japanese anime.

For some reason, the French language's intonations work really well to accurately portray and convey the original tones in Japanese anime. e.g. Lupin III (the anime) works really well in French dub.

English dubs usually fail to do the same. It's as though English just doesn't work for the genre.

As a French native speaker with Japanese ability, I disagree completely. Most of the time is cringy as hell, and there are changes in meaning as well. Anime from Club Dorothée area were dubbed in a joking manner by voice actors because they didn't give a shit about it. Philippe Ogouz in an interview said, amongst other things: "Non. On ne suivait RIEN. On ne suivait rien. Là je vais vous décevoir, pour nous c'était.... On s'en foutait, pour nous c'était la déconnade." http://hokuto.free.fr/ecrit.htm All that stuff is an accident of history, because the professionals of the time didn't take the job seriously, and it produced something funny.

That being said, as animation is mostly targeted at kids, it's good there are dubbed, because as a kid reading subtitles of any movie or assimilated is a total fun killer.

Felt the same. The few french dubs that are feeling "ok" are mostly biased from nostalgia by being the first things we were exposed to. I know i feel that way with the Cowboy Bebop dub (and i won't take into account the Miyazaki movies as they are exceptions for many reasons).

The few other dubs i was exposed to later in life weren't good experiences either and you could feel the limited cast (in quality and quantity of actors) failing at not butchering things along the process.

Like you said animation and dubbing it wasn't taken seriously at all in the past, and is still limited nowadays in France as i understand it (short discussions with actual french dubbing actress and few articles).

The Italian ones are really good, too. The Italian intro/“sigla” [1] for the Lupin the 3rd anime series has stuck with me for 25 years, ever since I first heard it.

[1] https://youtu.be/AKmzwpALHg4

Grrr. I grew up with the misconception All Anime (dragon ball, gigi, daimos, tsubasa, yattaman) was Italian due to 'Polonia 1' pirate TV station being run by Italian businessman https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polonia_1

example https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bzm_bODiJwU

Now that you mention it, I imagine that other Romance languages of continental Europe (e.g. Spanish and Portuguese) could work really well, too.

How does German work? Is it possible that Germanic/Saxon languages aren't good for dubbing anime?

lol my first encounter with anime was on Polish TV, DragonBall Z. Imagine hearing french (which I had no clue about so just guessing situations from emotions), then in parallel dubbed by very monotone Polish voice from single guy, with few seconds delay. I am not very good at understanding Polish (lived not far across the border so we could catch OK analog signal), but much better than French.

Hilarious, confusing, and I couldn't care less. At that time, it was so much above any other cartoon TV show, brutal, violent, funny and opened for me the whole world of anime that is not necessarily childish. Good times

Japanese dubs of almost anything are usually pretty great. Voice acting is a large industry in Japan, and many voice actors are pretty much celebrities.

I have thought about this, and I agree. The best English anime dubs are when the voice actors overdo it a little and draw from the Japanese voice acting.

Some dubs are actually good. For example the German dub of Erik the Viking is funnier than the English original imo.

Yeah, while most dubs suck, I do have a huge soft spot for the German dubs of Monty Python movies, "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" in particular (it's called "Knights of the Coconut" in German, btw)

A lot of that might just be nostalgia speaking, though.

Do you feel the same about book translations? Do you only see movies / read books in languages that you understand?

I see lots of movies in languages I don’t understand thanks to subtitles. That way, I can read the dialogue and know what they’re saying. About one or two seconds later I see the actors do their performance and get the emotional and cultural context with the dialogue.

I didn’t understand English that well when I was a kid but since we don’t translate English language media, except for subtitles, I got to hear English over and over again and now my ability to comprehend spoken English is very good. As is most Swedes, we spend just as many hours a week in English class as they do in France, Spain or Germany yet we are better at it (in general). We’re not geniuses, we just get more practice and less hand holding.

Can’t do anything about books though, sadly. If I read a book in a language I don’t understand I probably have the intention to learn that language.

Imagine being the director of the movie and seeing this, remembering all the hours you put into directing the actors to give your vision life, and now people is reading lines of text in a different language overlaid on the screen instead of paying attention to what’s happening :-)

That's a misconception by people not used to reading subtitles. It's like a logo of the TV channel, after some time your brain just filters it out and it doesn't steal your attention at all. I grew up reading subtitles and I'm absolutely not aware of the text when watching the movies, my brain just picks it up. If it's in one of the languages that I speak I'll both listen to the original and read the subtitles, and it all happens also on auto-pilot without ever really thinking about it. I become aware of that only when the translation doesn't match.

I remember watching City of God with someone and afterwards asking about the subtitles. "What subtitles?" He hadn't noticed he was reading subtitles. Raved about the film, though; aware that they must have been speaking Portuguese, but with genuinely no memory of the non-English language or the subtitles.

It's funny. I have watched so much TV/anime with subtitles that I am now used to having them, even for shows with dialogue already in my mother tongue (Cantonese). Sometimes I watch TV and forget to turn on the subtitles, and I start feeling uncomfortable or even have trouble understanding, even though I can hear the dialogue perfectly well.

Another phenomenon is that, due to the sheer amount of Japanese drama/anime I have watched with English subtitles, I can often spot translations that are unidiomatic, even though I have no formal training in the Japanese language.

If the subtitles « don’t steal your attention at all » you’re not reading them. I agree that one might be able to ignore the subtitles in the same way that one can ignore the logo.

Edit: I’m used to subtitles. In the same language, in another language, even in two other languages at the same time. One reads them unconsciously, a few minutes later maybe one can’t even recall if there were subtitles or not. But when you’re reading them, even if it’s just a fraction of the time, you’re not looking at the whole picture. Comparing them to the network logo is ridiculous.

As a sibling comment points out, you forget it’s even there. In a Swedish theater American movies have subtitles but when I watch them at home I usually don’t use subtitles. No difference whatsoever in immersion, comprehension or overall pleasure.

The only annoying thing could be bad subtitles, as in the translation is poor and you notice it. And of course jokes that don’t work in Swedish get lost or changed in translation, which you notice in the subtitles. These situations happen maybe once, for five seconds. Far less annoying than not even hearing the actors’ performance.

If you don’t need the subtitles and you don’t read them they are definitely much less distracting.

Regarding the « no difference whatsoever », you noted in a previous comment that you know a few seconds in advance what’s going to be said.

> Regarding the « no difference whatsoever », you noted in a previous comment that you know a few seconds in advance what’s going to be said.

Yes, sometimes that will affect the drama of the scene since the pacing of information in the scene might be compromised. That's likely to happen with dubbing too, because the grammar doesn't match and a name has to be mentioned at the beginning of the sentence in one language instead of the end, as the director intended. Since Swedish and English are both Germanic languages it doesn't happen that often in the few movies that are dubbed to Swedish, but I've seen it get really weird in Swedish films dubbed to Spanish.

Either way, in my experience, if I see Clint Eastwood's line a moment before he says it, I can still feel the scorching sun and smell the gunpowder like I'm there in the old American west. That atmosphere disappears completely when I hear his line in German or French.

It’s amusing that you mention Eastwood. If you are thinking of spaghetti westerns the sound wasn’t really recorded when filming (actors were using multiple languages anyway) and the movie was dubbed on studio by the original actors or someone else depending on the output language.

“There was a crude “guide track” recording what was spoken, but often Leone lost or ignored this guide track and when the time came to loop the dialogue, frequently no one could remember who had said what. Eastwood recalls being warned to keep his OWN NOTES about what he said in each scene, and sure enough, when he was called on to loop the two Dollar movies, production had lost the guide track. They had NO IDEA what Clint had actually said in each scene and Clint had to re-record them as best he could remember. (Another reason why his lip movements don’t entirely match up.)“

Lots of movie productions make actors dub the dialogue after shooting, it still creates a mismatch between the atmosphere and the dialogue when you change the language, which was my argument.

What about films where the original language doesn't match the "atmosphere"? If I understand correctly, you would rather see Gladiator dubbed in Latin than in the original version? Are hobbits expected to speak English?

The right language can heighten the atmosphere, but otherwise a skilled director working closely with the rest of the crew can make it work. Remove the control of the director by using voice actors who were not directed by the director and it will take away from that work.

Reduction of atmosphere is just one of the reasons I don't like dubbing, the fact that it robs the actor of his or her oral performance is the major one. But there are more reasons, many of them I've already mentioned such as mismatch in grammar leading to changes in the dramatic pacing.

Imagine being the director of the movie, and knowing that subtitles are spreading your work to those who otherwise wouldn't ever care to watch it due to the language barrier

Don’t you think they will feel the same about dubbing?

Most cities have at least one cinema that shows current movies in English, perhaps only on some days of the week, though. Many also have cinemas that show independent or art films and those often show films in the original language as well.

But dubbing is not what the GP is talking about.

That's not what the comment says...

Pretty common in France too.

Still common? Or was common?

Still common. We have both: original (Version Originale, VO - with subtitles usually) and translated/dubbed (VF - Version Française).

And the interpreter still does it live?!

Lists like these on Wikipedia drive me crazy.

As others have pointed out, there are still footmen, peddlers, Mudlarks (the recently published book about it is great by the way), nursemaids, troubadors and even arguably privateers working away in the World today. Their numbers may be fewer, their fortunes and status somewhat smaller, but they haven't disappered.

Some have also pointed out that in many cases the role exists, it's just the name and nature of the job that has changed slightly over time.

So then we come to the definition of "obsolete", and it's this which prevents me from editing the list and removing these: I would argue "no longer used" does not apply, and somebody else would argue they are "out of date", which arguably is true.

The community at Wikipedia is not a friendly one to engage with in such debates, IME - it's defensive, cliquey and closed. As a newcomer, there is a good chance I'd end up losing the argument. So, I don't edit Wikipedia. Ever.

What they have produced is in the whole, remarkable. However, lists like this make me sad as they remind me of the closed shop nature of being able to contribute.

A core feature of wikipedia is "no original research". It doesn't matter whether you think these occupations are obsolete or not. It only matters if someone else thought it, and wrote it down, and then got it published in a reliable source. At that point a wikipedia editor can add the occupation to the list.

It's a bizarre system because there are large cultural around fact-checking in different media in different countries, so there's a load of opinion that's now in Wikipedia because it got published somewhere else.

One of the ironies of Wikipedia is that concepts like "notability" and "no original research" tend to be adjudicated, in no small part when they are, by publication in non-digital form. (Which, I assume, no one actually physically checks much of the time.)

This has always made me wonder: could one make up fake quotes and “cite” them out of an old book?

Absolutely. You could even add fake citations to online newspapers – the odds of someone checking are very low, and I continually stumble upon either blatant fabrications or misunderstandings that have stood there "sourced" for years on high-traffic articles.

Just create a citation loop and create facts from nowhere!

Even better: I remember there being a Wikipedia edit on some German person's name, that was copied by a newspaper and then that name in the newspaper was cited as a justification to not fix the name back. It might be https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karl-Theodor_zu_Guttenberg, but I can't find any references about Wikipedia not correcting the name.

Yes, it was him, someone added an additional "Wilhelm" [0] and it was copied by many newspapers [1]. The Bild wrote (translation mine): "Do we have to remember this name?" [2], and some anonymous guest author on the blog claims to be responsible [2]. In 2016 the name was edited in for about 2 minutes [3], referencing a source from 2012. However, I do not recall it being a big issue to remove that additional name again – but it was more than 10 years ago. It did, however, draw some criticism to German journalism.

[0]: https://de.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Karl-Theodor_Frei... [1]: https://bildblog.de/5731/wilhelm-ii/ lists a few of those newspapers [2]: https://bildblog.de/5704/wie-ich-freiherr-von-guttenberg-zu-... [3]: https://de.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Karl-Theodor_zu_G...

Some people tried way more sophisticated hoaxes: https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2012/05/how-t...

Sure. And I assume that, at least so long as the claim/quote wasn't too outrageous, you'd probably get away with it.

Of course, this is the will known process of citogenesis[0] (coined by Randall Monroe on xkcd), itself well documented on Wikipedia[1].

[0] https://xkcd.com/978/ [1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Circular_reporting

Where would you draw the limit? I'm sure you can find at least one person having almost any occupation, including knocker-up. The world is a big place. I think it would be more in the right spirit to look at the overall decrease. If the decrease is, for example, 99% I would consider it obsolete.

> closed shop nature of being able to contribute

This seems like a really bizarre characterization of Wikipedia. Wikipedia has had millions of contributors over its lifetime and something like 130K active editors. Anybody can hit the "Edit" button. I cannot think of any collaborative project that has more participants. If that's "closed shop" to you, what would be an example of an open project?

BTW, if you're of the deletionist inclination, you could certainly try to nuke this article on the basis of lack of references or https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Listcruft ("In general, a "List of X" stand-alone list article should only be created if X itself is a legitimate encyclopedic topic that already has its own article") and have a good chance of succeeding.

Obsolete does not mean extinct. One of its definitions is "Vestigial or rudimentary". It's still there, but it doesn't do much. This is, AFAIK, the definition intended.

Essentially any vague-ish list on Wikipedia is pretty much a train wreck. Another one is something like "notable people" associated with some city or other. It can make sense for a small town that maybe has had only one of two of any reasonable note. But it's silly when applied to any sizable city. Yet it's exactly the sort of thing that encourages the sort of random drive-by additions that are one of the banes of Wikipedia generally.

With lists notable people from cities it's gets vague whether to include people who were born but not raised there, raise but not born there, people who moved there as adults, etc.

Also, scullery maid. As best I can tell from the article, it just means “low ranked maid”. Some of the traditional job functions they list don’t exist anymore, but maids do.

Sort of. However, the term is pretty much tied to the staff in "great houses" where the scullery maid was usually an assistant to the kitchen maid. I imagine that somewhat similar functions (though not at the detailed level) still exist in some places but I doubt anyone would use that particular term.

"As a newcomer, there is a good chance I'd end up losing the argument."

Have you tried? You might find it slightly more welcoming that you think.

I think this is a misconception. Wikipedia has a big set of rules and standards, and it turns out most first time contributors spend a lot of time making a contribution, only for it to be reverted because it violates the rules.

I think they need something like "Looks like you're new to editing! Make your first edit together with someone who has experience.". They should then open some kind of google-docs collaborative editor.

IME = in my experience. So, yes.

You had me at privateer... where do I apply?

Oddly, most of these still exist, but hve just chnged names. I must have clicked on a dozen, only to discover that they are just obsolete descriptors, and the roles live on. Which is interesting in a way I was not expecting.

I was a little surprised to see "line infantry" and "heavy infantry", considering that grunt troops are pretty much the modern successors of line infantry, and Rangers (for the US) and special forces are the modern successors of heavy infantry.

If you click on e.g. Bombardier, you find the explanation that this job still exists, it's just called Combat Systems Officer.

Looking through the list, it can pretty much be divided into "hard manual labor replaced by steam engines" and "old word for an occupation that still exists today".

SF (or SOF for Americans) would better be light infantry:

>Light infantry is a designation applied to certain types of foot soldiers (infantry) throughout history, typically having lighter equipment or armament or a more mobile or fluid function than other types of infantry, such as heavy infantry or line infantry. Historically, light infantry often fought as scouts, raiders and skirmishers—soldiers who fight in a loose formation ahead of the main army to harass, delay, disrupt supply lines, and generally "soften up" an enemy before the main battle. After World War II, the term "light infantry" evolved, and now generally refers to rapid-deployment units (including commandos and airborne units) that specifically emphasize speed and mobility over armor and firepower. Some units or battalions that historically held a skirmishing role have kept their designation "light infantry" for the sake of tradition.

Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Light_infantry

Rangers, Paras and SF are Light or possibly Dragoons (air Cavalry)

I’m sure higher end hotels would have lift operators too.

There was a piece in the NYT a while ago about manually operated elevators in NYC


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palace_of_Culture_and_Science has a viewing floor and a lift you use to get to it is operated manually by an employee. I would guess similar places have this arrangement too.

The British army still has "Line" regiments

Yeah, some are actually not obsolete like Scribe.

Yes! I just placed an offer with the sofer (Hebrew for "scribe") for more scrolls just yesterday. It's still an occupation. (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sofer )

and coopers! They just mostly work in a far reduced pervasiveness than they used to. Mostly spirits (whisky, wine, etc) aging casks these days?

Coopers are definitely not obsolete. Making a good whisky barrel is not an easy thing.

Whisky is a huge global business

My favorite is the "knocker-up"!

A knocker-up, sometimes known as a knocker-upper, was a profession in Britain and Ireland that started during and lasted well into the Industrial Revolution, when alarm clocks were neither cheap nor reliable, and to as late as the beginning of the 1920s. A knocker-up's job was to rouse sleeping people so they could get to work on time.

from Wikipedia

This reminds me of one of the tasks that was traditionally assigned to the church carekeeper, or sacristan[1], in Finland (Finnish: suntio): to poke dozing churchgoers with a long stick to keep them awake during a mass!

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sacristan

I’m slightly surprised that the Wikipedia page doesn’t mention that the term “knocking up” is still used by political campaigners in the context of rousing people to vote if they have asked to be reminded early on election day.

Its also a political term in the UK.

On the day of the election checking your known supporters have voted is still called "knocking up"

Our political leaders in the US attempt to knock-up all their constituents as well, but to a much different effect.

Knock up means something else completely different in American English.

Some mornings I could really find use for that kind of services.

Be VERY careful in how you word that Craigslist gigs posting.

Knocker-ups are one of my favorites. Essentially human alarm clocks, they would tap on windows with a long stick to quietly wake the room’s inhabitants.


Sounds like an industry ripe for disruption. Crowd source that job with an app, and the primary money maker is all that data you get on people waking up. Use the block chain to confirm awakenings. Eventually the workers will be replaced by self driving cars, so we will invest heavily in deep learning. 100 million in seed money should be enough right?

I'm thinking that drones would be a more obvious solution, as they can knock on windows even in high-rises. Maybe even with bright lights for deaf customers?

I believe it is also subscription based?

Sure, the basic service is a subscription. If you want to customize the knocking pattern or have an alternative wake-up method like playing a melody or even a light-show in front of your window, you can do so with paid microtransactions. Or get one of the fancy MTX 'cheaper' by buying a mystery loot box and being lucky!

Also do not forget the challenges! Being already awake before the drone arrives for 30 consecutive days also grants an (entry-tier) microtransaction (available once per household, requires the same person to be awake every day), better ones are available for up to 730 consecutive days to give you a feeling of pride and accomplishment!

No no. A la carte usage like Uber. Create an account, schedule a time, scan your window, and then schedule as needed -- the drone will be there for a small fee.

Peak times -- i.e. 6am -- will, naturally, be priced hire to account for demand.

We'll beta test a "troll your neighbor" option for a 10x rate, but we'll let you wake up anyone within 300m of your location.

Sure, but you have to control the drones via VR, otherwise how even will you raise capital

Use wifi or bluetooth to locate the sleeper, then have subscribing app users adjacent to the sleeper wake the sleeper.

That comment is so Hacker News...

Which makes me wonder: who would wake the knocker-upper so they go wake other people on time?

Turtles all the way down. Or maybe a rooster?

You designate a knocker-upper knocker-upper, a person who goes to sleep with the inhabitants, and the last thing they do is to wake the knocker-uppers up.

No need for infinite recursion! A knocks up B, 8 hours later B knocks up C, 8 hours later C knocks up A.

If it was me, I’d stay up all night, and make sure to have customers really, really early to keep me busy!

Can't the knocker-upper just use an alarm clock?

A QI episode covered this; knockers-uppers can have their own knocker-uppers too!

I would pay for this service.

Get a cat.

Why do I feel like someone is going through this list today and opening a new shop in Portland tomorrow?

Tomorrow? It's only 9:15, there's plenty of time to start tonight!

Too unsafe until we bring the Lamplighters back.

Funny. Personally I was just imagining... Say for (wild) example you end up going to war against a neighboring city and all you have for air support is whatever's parked at your municipal airport. You think a bombardier is going to be an obsolete person at that point?

A tad bit more seriously, but still related: I do find lists like this suspect when viewed in terms of their resiliency over time vs. localized changes in circumstances.

A common contest among pilots is dropping flour bombs for accuracy.

Pretty sure we already have Herb Strewers here! ;)

So in researching my family tree I came across an occupation I’d never heard of, doesn’t exist anymore and isn’t in this list: scutcher.

What is that? Someone who separates linen fibers from flax seeds, a job quite literally replaced by the industrial revolution.

It makes me wonder if in another 200 years how many jobs will be looked at in the same way. Hopefully, a lot.

A scutcher separates the bast fibers from the flax. It's the job of a thresher to separate the seeds from the flax chaff. They're two different jobs, and you can only scutch after retting and breaking but if you ret the flax, you can't thresh any more.

The entire linen-making process is shown here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TFuj7sXVnIU

To bring 'round to programming, will "Fortran programmer" be on that list? C, Java, Python, LISP programmer? "Programmer?"

I went on a guided tour in Australia early this year and the topic of occupations came up. Our tour guide said he used to be a cartographer and then switched to being a tour guide because "Google put him out of business". I honestly didn't know what a cartographer was so I googled it and it's someone who makes maps. I can see why he became a tour guide and why he blames Google. I wonder about all the other cartographers out there; perhaps cartographer should be on this list.

Surely there are many cartographers that work on the Maps team? I doubt all of that content can be generated directly from satellite images.

Furthermore there are many cartographers that work for e.g. oil companies and the military. Google Maps provides a great service to consumers, but there are thousands of map types that it does not support that both the public and private sector need made.

“Cartographer” was replaced by “Geospatial data scientist” or the like.

There is little market left for purely drawing maps. That is now just an expected skill among those in the field of GIS.

Maybe if they had _some_ cartographers in the maps team perhaps google would understand the importance of a having a scale shown on a map _all_ the time.

A map is by definition drawn to scale, having a scale on the map is what makes it a map. We may maintain proportions but by removing the scale, it simply becomes a polished drawing with zero intuition of distance.

I am old enough that I navigated forest/mountain treks with a compass and topographic map as a teen. To me not having a map scale when navigating to a new place feels really disconcerting.

> Maybe if they had _some_ cartographers in the maps team perhaps google would understand the importance of a having a scale shown on a map _all_ the time.

Missing scale in online maps—and Google is a frequent offender—drives me fucking crazy.

It's one of the reasons I use OpenStreetMaps, despite it's shortcomings.

What are its shortcomings compared to Google's offering?

It's not as good at searching for places.

I'm surprised that nobody has apparently invented a more minimalistic scale that goes along the edges of the display. That way it's more consistently obvious while not taking up any space in the middle.

On desktop, the scale shows up all the time at the bottom right corner of the screen. On mobile it's only showing up during zooming, so I often zooming back and forth just to see the scale.

On iOS Google Maps go to Settings->Scales and set Map Scales to Always.

No Google cartographers necessary.

Yes I am aware, however (on android) it remains 'on' when manipulating in 'map mode' but it again dissapears when you ask it to provide route directions from A to B.

So it is not "always" shown.

At least in the mobile application, this can be fixed: https://support.google.com/maps/answer/6242110?hl=en

Not quite true.

It remains 'on' when manipulating in 'map mode' but it again dissapears when you ask it to provide route directions from A to B.

So it is not "always" shown.

I never paid attention to the scale when using a map.

I am not sure why you are downvoted as I have the feeling this will be true for a lot of people nowadays.

The scale of a map becomes relevant if you have to travel more than a few kilometres without an external 'absolute' reference like a GPS.

You could argue that navigation as an individual skill is also obsolete. Equally you could argue that ham radio is obsolete, however there are plenty of exanples of infrastruture faults in disaster situations where ham radio comms was the only alternative for emergency services after earthquakes hurricanes etc.

This is same reasoning why pilots training includes instrument loss scenarios. No system is garanteed to never fail.

So, if you're looking at a map of a city, you don't care whether you have to walk 1/4 mile or 2 miles between two places?

This actually happened to me once - I walked for way longer than I expected (I had looked at a map just to get directions not caring much about distances), but anyway it was an errand I absolutely had to do that day, knowing in advance how long it was going to take wouldn't have helped me (except maybe psychologically).

Now, I'm not defending my actions, I just gave the example to see I was not exaggerating.

Maybe it's because I do a lot of hiking, but I'm always acutely aware of scale when I'm looking at a map--and it annoys me if it's not immediately obvious.

When I worked for a small company writing mapping software (non-Google/Apple) we actually hired a full-time cartographer to correctly style the maps and help us with the human interface challenges of displaying map data. A UX generalist may not necessarily have this kind of expertise. I'm sure there aren't many specialized positions like this open but they do exist. I imagine the big mapping companies hire multiple cartographers.

Exactly. It really is a specialised skill, not just one that you can pick up alongside all your other GIS skills.

Was it difficult to find a full time cartographer? Did you have to reach out to someone like a university or just placing an ad was fine?

I wasn’t personally involved in the hiring (we=Company) so I imagine they went where you usually go for graphic designers or UI experts and looked specifically for someone promoting themselves as a cartographer!

They may use GIS now to do it, but cartographer is still very much a job in its own right. That may not always be the job title (though it still is in many places) but just as there are loads of front end developers who aren't any good at design, there are plenty of GIS engineers who can't design a great map. Likewise, whether they're called cartographers or geospatial data visualisation specialists, there are probably more people designing maps now than there ever have been.

Cartographers are still needed to design the maps. GIS and map data people have a different skill set than designers, and a lot of careful thought goes into good maps.

I’ve worked in a team of cartographers and their numbers have dwindled and they’ve had to diversify their skillset over the last decade.

From a strict since of literal map makers drawing maps, yes that position would be obsolete apart from maybe some niche "for the art of it" scenarios, like the man mapping out the remaining dirt roads in the United States. Check out this New Yorker article if you're interested in that specific case: https://www.newyorker.com/culture/annals-of-inquiry/dirt-roa...

The National Geospatial Intelligence Agency employs ~16,000 people.

That’s an impressive number! USGS employs around 8000 according to Wikipedia.

Next they’ll find out about audio tours

I have a young acquaintance who is a working cartographer.

> A printer's devil was an apprentice in a printing establishment who performed a number of tasks, such as mixing tubs of ink and fetching type. Notable writers including Ambrose Bierce, Benjamin Franklin and Mark Twain served as printer's devils in their youth.


I thought it was principally sorting and setting type - the metal letters had to be physically arranged (mirror image) in a small rack and screwed into a tight frame. Tedious.

Oh, that's what that Twilight Zone episode was named after... Neat.

Galley slave https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galley_slave is not really a job, is it? Maybe the title should be copied from Wikipedia where it says "occupation" instead of "job".

> Peddler

Uh... peddlers still exist. Ever go to a holiday festival or parade? There's always peddlers slinging shiny, spinny, glowy, useless doo-dads.

Anyone who's lived in California has seen roadside peddlers trying to sell flowers, oranges, avocados, etc. Seems peddling is alive and well.

The linked article itself contadicts the list by showing several examples of modern peddleers. Pretty much every large city in tge world is filled with them. That's a profession that will exists for as long as humanity does.

Yup. One of my old coworkers from years ago, an OS programmer, used to joke that his mother was a computer. She had been a computer for the University economics department. When electronic computers came in, she became a keypunch operator.

He got a job as a systems programmer at the university following the standard hiring track of the day -- as an undergrad he figured out how to crack the OS so that he could under-bill his runs and get free mainframe time. When he was caught, he was offered a part-time student job on the sys-pro staff. I met him years later when he was a senior OS architect.

You would be impressed to know the proportion of Master/PhD students who are, in that sense, literal computers.

>Check these 4,000 pictures and count the number of green dots you see, store it in an excel table. If you see more than five, send me an email immediately.

>Put a 1 on it, then run it, then put a 2 on it and run it, then put a 3 on it and run it, go on until you reach 10,000. When you are done calculate positives/total and infer a p-value. If it is lower than or equal to 0.05, you're done, if it isn't continue until you reach 100,000. If it still higher than 0.05, we'll get you another PhD project.

>From the set {a, b, c, d, e, f, g ... z or more} pick two, run the experiment with those, document the result. Pick another two and continue until you exhaust all the possibilities.

And the list goes on ...

I once stumbled across a group of friends doing just that, in order to complete a project. While amusing, it worked and it was all they could think to do at the time.

It made me wonder when checking out your link: If those friends could talk to a real Computer (person), would that Computer (person) be able to give them any practicable advice based on years of experience? Little tricks, or things to watch out for? Was any wisdom lost to the ages when the paid Computer role faded from the world at a broader scale?

Your questions reminded me of a wonderful Asimov story where he takes this to a delightfully absurd extreme: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Feeling_of_Power

Eerily relevant in our smartphone age.

"Baby Farmer" is listed there as people that take on children solely for the purpose of making money. That's a common complaint about the foster care industry in the US. Not sure that one is obsolete just yet.

I saw that in Pratchett's _Snuff_; I thought it was a joke, an exaggeration!

Also missing from the list:


There are still dairy companies that will deliver fresh milk directly to a consumer's door! Although I expect most such "milkman" services to be subsumed into more general grocery delivery services.

That is on the list (not added since your comment): I was just reading that in utter amazement.

A lamplighter is still employed by the city of Wroclaw. So the job is not 100% obsolete but rather extremely rare.

I think "obsolete" doesn't mean "extinct", but "not necessary anymore". Lamplighters are not necessary anymore. The kind of lamps that require one are obsolete and have usually been replaced by more modern lamps. But you can still hold on to an obsolete profession, item or technology out of nostalgia or tradition.

Really? I live in Wroclaw and cannot recall any non electric lamps. Would you care to elaborate?

Sure; Last year I visited the place, at the cathedral island the lamps are lighted every evening.[1] It's a great sight, the guy walks fast, so if you want to make a beautiful photo you have to be quick. [1] https://www.getyourguide.com/wroclaw-l2036/wroclaw-cathedral...

There's a photo of him on the Lamplighter Wikipedia page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lamplighter

And yet unemployment is the lowest in decades!

I guess you're are talking about US, right?

Anyway, sometimes unemployment rate could be misleading. For example, Cambodia's UR is 0.3% [1]. However beneath the impressive statistic lies a harsher reality of widespread near-unemployment, masked by the methodology: Anyone who works just one hour a week is considered employed.

The employed include people aged 15 and over who, during the reference week worked for one hour or more for pay, profit, commission or payment in kind, in a job or business or on a farm,” notes a 2013 ILO working paper on its methodology. Which means that anyone who has some kind of garden in the backyard, and if they go and grow some vegetables on their farmland, they will always be considered employed [2]

In developing countries the informal sector holds about 60% of the ecomony.



I feel like you have to compensate for our aging population there as well

Here in Japan it's getting difficult to hire for some jobs. One of my local convenience stores just closed because they couldn't hire enough staff to keep it open. I thought it was fairly interesting because there was a kind of local wage war between it (A daily Yamazaki) and the 7-11 across the street. The 7-11 won.

I'm very curious how this turns out given the deflationary economy. Will this drive inflation I wonder?

That's interesting. I always thought the convenience stores positions on the job market are pretty strong. The demand for low-wage jobs is full-filled within アルバイト and foreigners. I might be biased, but since I moved to Japan I rarely seen any 日本人 at the counter other than students.

That's definitely true in the big cities (in my experience), but I'm in a small rural town. Most of the foreigners have relatively high paying factory jobs around here (or work in the old folks home). Since there is no university here and high school students by and large are not allowed to work part time jobs, it means there isn't many people left.

Bull, US employment rate at ~60.4% (2018) is down 4% from 2000 ~(64.4%). The sharp drop in the late from 63% in 07 to 58% in 2010 shows this is not a voluntary change.


PS: It was higher every year from 1990 to 2008 showing just how bad things are right now.

I'll happily agree that there was a huge economic crisis in 2008 that caused a peak in unemployment.

My point though, is that automation, just like the last 250 years since Industrialization started, has not caused unemployment on an aggregate level. Instead an increase in production and living standard happens, decade after decade.

The employment rate has dropped over time with the current vast numbers of students, retired workers, and prisoners being a new thing. The official unemployment rate ignores those populations, but economically it’s automation that has enabled this shift.

Socially, some of this is muddled by stay at home mothers with automation like washing machines making a dramatic difference in hours worked.

I think much of that is voluntary. These people could get a job if they wanted it, but they can live of savings.

Since a worker today produces ~30x as much as a worker 250 years ago (to the extent it is calculable, that's where estimates land), It's not too surprising many choose this path.

Your data shows things have been going uphill steadily since 2008. I don’t think you can justifiably call this situation bad.

Lose a finger and the healing wound can have steady improvement without actually fixing the problem. Now if things improve at this rate for another decade we will have recovered, but recessions tend to occur more frequently than that. At this point recovery in another 15 years seems optimistic as we may have gone through a permanent transition that never really gets better.

Because new jobs have been created, which didn't exist.

Most of the jobs listed are centuries old not decades.

Most of the jobs listed were before people started tracking things like unemployment.

Many (most?) of the jobs listed still exist, they were just renamed, and/or look a bit different than they looked in the past.

Unemployment isn’t bad in theory, it’d imply that we’ve become more productive as a race.

There’s plenty of busywork type jobs in Japan and Australia, from what I’ve seen.

Not just Japan or Australia, coming back to the U.S. after a year in Japan I'm shocked at how few vending machines there are for example.

Do you mean "as a species"?

There is a term “human race”

Semantic corrections like this alienate people from hn.

Labor participation rates are historically low

Imagine an RPG game, set in magical industrial Victorian era with lots of these characters playing these roles... A broomsquire that you can upgrade to squire, or a Dahomey Amazon! Man...

Dishonored took quite a bit of this actually.

Is Ninja really and obsolete occupation or is that just the ultimate a Ninja move.

Except for the social structures of the old clans, I like to think that the ninja traditions are alive and well in the espionage business of today, especially in black ops teams.

I think they just finally perfected themselves with the ultimate Ninja move.

While they were still used, my mother was a Comptometer operator. https://www.jaapsch.net/mechcalc/comptometer.htm

To use one required, for operations more complex than addition (e.g. division), an understanding of arithmetic algorithms - similar to those used in a CPU, except in decimal.

I would like to add one from the gin world.

Ramos Gin Fizz or the New Orleans Gin Fizz is a drink that needs to be shaken for a seriously long time to get its tall structure.

In the 1880s, there used to be "shaker boys" just for shaking the gin fizz - https://lettersandliquor.com/14-RAMOS-GIN-FIZZ-1880s

Soon to be added: truck driver, data entry clerk, etc.

Beyond that, people don't realize how powerful AI actually is and how close we are to making it general purpose. AI can already automatically create functions for just about anything given enough data. The only real problem is that it generally provides a shallow and entangled understanding of the world. But it _can_ automatically create an understanding.

So what they are working on is creating a better factored and more accurate representation of the world automatically. In a way this is a matter of degree of performance. You have basically a Manhattan Project scale effort at this. All of the Turing Award winners, many geniuses at companies like Deep Mind, Open AI, Microsoft, Tencent, Baidu. Also John Carmack. Plus thousands of enthusiasts who have access to most of the same research which is posted on arxiv and the same core open source tools.

It's strange to me how many people expect all of these geniuses (and largely working together by sharing research openly) to continue to fail for the next 30-40 years.

In the past weekend I saw the movie "Lisbon Story". The main character was a "sound maker" for movies that were filmed with no sound (I don't know the right term). His job consisted in reproduce the sounds of, for example, a water splashing sound, a horse running, an egg frying, a pigeon flapping his wings trying to eat...

This is still done. The incidental sounds you hear in movies are often (or almost entirely?) dubbed after the fact, and are not from the microphones on the filming set.

What do you mean obsolete, I've got an Alewife right here next to me.

That one struck me too. Ale and beer are still being made, and I'm sure there are plenty of women doing that.

Still, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alewife_(trade) is mostly about the historical and outdated notions of the trade. In the distant past, many trades were seen as either male or female trades, and brewer is one that started out as a trade for women, and later became a trade specifically for men (before finally, in modern times, opening up to everybody).

It's really the notion that professions need to be for a specific gender that's obsolete here.

Ha, one of the entries is Hippeis:


The last remaining few happen to live on the same small Thailand island as i do. I am very happy to say that they are not extinct although they are becoming fewer, unfortunately

To be clear, you live on an island with Greek cavalrymen?

I don't know why, but this made me laugh too hard. Thanks for this.

You mean hippies right?

I don't know whether anyone calls them that any longer, but the work of the "gandy dancer" has not gone away. There is a union now pat of the Teamsters, the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees: https://www.bmwe.org/default.aspx

Garden Hermit sounds quite relaxing. I would love for someone to pay me to live in their garden. Bonus points if I am allowed to stand like a statue and stare at people. How do we revive this occupation and make it a trend?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soda_jerk -- sounds like a modern smoothy barista :) not obsolete at all!

Hmm, seems like 'hetaira' is still not obsolete occupation.

I always thought I'd be good at making logarithm tables by hand.

Missing: jQuery developer

We have several elevator operators in our building. They sit at desks in the service lifts and manage entry for people who don’t have card access to the resident lifts.

Yikes -- this one is insane. A priest hunter was a person who, acting on behalf of the British government, spied on or captured Catholic priests during Penal Times.

Probably should bring that one back to be honest...

We therefore need to reverse the technological progress that made these jobs obsolete in order to create more jobs for obsolete workers.

Based on recent discussions here, "keypunch operator" should be added to the list.

Here's a neat one: "Computer (job description)"

Web developer - an obsolete occupation?!

You mean spider?

“Useful man”! So it’s official now.

you mean the intern right?

Linotype operator? Type setter?

Nay! Moveable type is still sometimes used to print that metalic lettering on high end cards. Before college, I worked one of those machines.

Soon to be obsolete: a driver.

My wife claims 'Editor' should be on the list. When word processors got invented, editing tanked since everybody now thinks they can compose and edit for themselves. Leading to the appalling state of printed literacy we have.

Are there still typists?

Yes. In some countries of South America we have typists for transcribing litigations in the legal system. Of course we also have cameras and voice recorders,but transcriptions are done faster with typists.

If I wanted to make up an article for laughs, this would be a good category.

Link-boys FTW


The italics indicate that it's a redirect rather than an article. The non-italic ones are articles in their own right with the name indicated in the category.

Sure, as long they have an article on Wikipedia.

Hoplite. No shit.

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