75 Names of Unusual or Obsolete Occupations

By Mark Nichol

The English language abounds with word describing occupations and professions that are rare or obsolete or are otherwise unusual and hence obscure. Here is an incomplete but extensive list of such terms, along with brief definitions.

1. ackerman: a plowman or oxherder
2. alewife: a proprietor of a tavern
3. alnager: a wool inspector
4. arkwright: a carpenter specializing in wooden chests
5. bowyer: a bowmaker
6. brazier: a brass worker
7. catchpole: an official who pursues those with delinquent debts
8. caulker: someone who packs seams in ships or around windows
9. chandler: a candlemaker, or a retail supplier of specific equipment
10. chiffonier: a wigmaker
11. cobbler: a shoemaker
12. collier: a coal miner or a maker of charcoal (also, a ship that transports coal)
13. cooper: a maker or repairer of barrels, casks, and tubs
14. cordwainer: a shoemaker
15. costermonger: a fruit seller
16. crocker: a potter
17. currier: a leather tanner, or a horse groom
18. draper: a cloth dealer
19. drayman: a driver of a heavy freight cart
20. drummer: a traveling salesman
21. duffer: a peddler
22. eggler: an egg seller
23. factor: an agent or steward
24. farrier: someone who trims horse hooves and puts on horseshoes
25. fishmonger: a fish seller
26. fletcher: a maker of arrows
27. fuller: someone who shrinks and thickens wool cloth
28. glazier: a glassmaker or window maker
29. haberdasher: an owner of or worker in a store for men’s clothing or small items used for making clothes
30. hawker: a peddler
31. hayward: an official responsible for fences and hedges
32. higgler: a peddler of dairy products and small game (also, a haggler, or someone who negotiates for lower prices)
33. hobbler: a person who tows boats on a canal or river
34. hooper: a maker of hoops for barrels, casks, and tubs
35. hostler or ostler: one who cares for horses or mules, or moves or services locomotives (originally, an innkeeper, who also maintained stables)
36. huckster: a peddler (now refers to a con artist)
37. ice cutter: someone who saws blocks of ice for refrigeration
38. ironmonger: a seller of items made of iron
39. joiner: a carpenter who specializes in furniture and fittings
40. keeler: a crew member on a barge or a keelboat
41. knacker: one who buys animals or animal carcasses to use as animal food or as fertilizer (originally, a harness maker or saddle maker)
42. knocker-up: a professional waker, who literally knocks on doors or windows to rouse people from sleep
43. lamplighter: someone who lights, extinguishes, and refuels gas street lamps
44. lapidary: a jeweler
45. lector: someone who reads to factory workers for entertainment
46. log driver: someone who floats and guides logs downriver for transportation
47. milliner: a designer, maker, or seller of women’s hats
48. muleskinner: a wagon driver
49. peruker: a wigmaker
50. pinsetter: someone who sets bowling pins back up after each bowl
51. plowright: a maker of plows and other farm implements
52. plumber: originally, one who installed lead roofing or set lead frames for windows
53. porter: a doorkeeper or gatekeeper
54. puddler: a worker in wrought iron
55. quarryman: a stonecutter
56. raker: a street cleaner
57. resurrectionist: someone who digs up recently buried corpses for use as cadavers
58. ripper: a fish seller
59. roper: a maker of nets and ropes
60. sawyer: a carpenter
61. slater: a roofer
62. slopseller: a seller of ready-made clothing, as opposed to a tailor
63. stevedore: a dockworker
64. tanner: someone who cures animal hides to make leather
65. teamster: a wagon driver
66. thatcher: someone who makes thatched roofs
67. tinker: a repairer or seller of small metal goods such as pots and pans
68. turner: someone who uses a lathe to turn wood for balustrades and spindles
69. victualer: an innkeeper, or a merchant who provides food for ships or for the military
70. wainwright: a wagon maker
71. webster: a weaver
72. weirkeeper: a fish trapper
73. wharfinger: an owner or operator of a wharf
74. wheelwright: a maker of wheels for carriages and wagons
75. whitesmith: a worker of tin

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12 Responses to “75 Names of Unusual or Obsolete Occupations”

  • PETER NEWTON

    Thanks for this list. I actually find it very useful as a translator, because these trades, far from extinct, are alive and well in most countries of the world. It is great to know how they are called in English.

  • Bill

    Where’s “drover,” a person who drives cattle or sheep to market?

  • ApK

    It was my recollection from several visits to Colonial Williamsburg that a cobbler was a shoe REPAIR person, not a shoe maker. That person was called, er, a shoemaker, I guess. Is this not so?

  • venqax

    Maybe an attempt to be gender-neutral or PC to the point of inaccuracy? An alewife (2) is, pretty obviously, a female proprietor of a tavern, not just any-ol’ ale pusher. Why would one not say so when providing a definition? And a webster (71) in actuality was in origin a femaleweaver– the feminine suffix -ster being the giveaway; just like a spinster is not just any older and unmarried “person”.
    “Old English webbestre “a female weaver,” from web (q.v.) + fem. suffix -ster.” Noah Webster.

  • venqax

    @Apk: I think you are correct that cobbler was one who mended shoes.

  • Mark Nichol

    Bill:
    I had to draw the line somewhere, and drover didn’t make the cut. Thanks for the addendum.

  • Mark Nichol

    Cobbler denotes both a maker of shoes and a mender of shoes.

  • Mark Nichol

    Omission of the detail that alewife and webster refer to a female tavernkeeper and weaver respectively is just that—an oversight. See also fishwife and brewster.

  • Andy Knoedler

    Another fairly common occupation that didn’t make the list is Fowler. A fowler caught wild birds for a living.

  • Agua Caliente

    I’d say this list is excellent, given the 75-word extent. For me, though, perhaps its best attribute is that the content plugs in solidly to a joke I first heard at age ten or so. I laughed my way through the list and may have added an extra day onto my lifespan. Many thanks.

  • venqax

    Brewster is a good one; wouldn’t have thought of that. Also of course, hipster, monster, LOL.

  • Kris

    Such a useful list. I always find word origins so fascinating.
    All the best. Kris.

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