Word of the day – plumitif

Plumitif [plymitif] nm – penpusher, bureaucrat; scribbler.

I came across today’s word last week at the French conversation group and particularly liked the sound of it. It comes from plume (feather, quill, nib) and is marked as pejorative in the dictionary. Plume comes from the Latin pluma (feather, down), from the Proto-Indo-European *pleus- (to pluck, a feather, fleece), which is also the root of the English word fleece.

Other words and expressions involving plumes include:

  • il y a laissé des plumes (he left some feathers there) – he came off badly, he got his fingers burnt
  • il perd ses plumes (he’s losing his feathers) – he’s going bald
  • elle a la plume facile (she has the easy pen) – writing comes easy to her
  • homme de plume – writer
  • prendre la plume – to write
  • je vis de ma plume – I live by my pen
  • je lui passe la plume – I’ll hand over to him / let him carry on
  • plumeau – feather duster
  • plumer – to pluck; to fleece (a person)
  • déplumer – to pluck
  • se déplumer – to moult, lose one’s feathers; to go bald
  • plumeux – feathery
  • plumier – pencil box/case

A penpusher is defined as an “Un-needed, beaureucratic employee not making any difference and hampering efficiency” [Urban Dictionary] or “someone who has a boring job in an office” [The Free Dictionary]. Are there similar words in other languages?

This entry was posted in English, Etymology, French, Language, Latin, Words and phrases.

13 Responses to Word of the day – plumitif

  1. Mut says:

    Interesting – I’m French and I didn’t know “plumitif”. Thanks for the word.

  2. Charles says:

    You missed plumard – bed (colloquial)

  3. Yenlit says:

    French seems to have many synonyms for penpusher – gratte-papier, scribouillard, folliculaire, bureaucrate and rond-de-cuir.
    I only know ‘gratte-papier’ (paper scraper/scratcher) and I can’t think of a Welsh version other than the English but I’m sure there must be one?

  4. D.Jay says:

    Pencil-pusher would be another one in English.

  5. Petréa Mitchell says:

    Has the term “desk jockey” (a play on “disc jockey”, of course) made it out of the US?

    I’ve heard “pencil-pusher” and “paper-pusher”, but never “penpusher”.

    Also, what about nom de plume – pen name? (Unless you’re speaking lolz, of course.)

  6. Yenlit says:

    Yes, I’ve heard of ‘desk jockey’ probably from US telly and I think penpusher is more British English than American. There’s also ‘number-cruncher’ which I assume is the version of a penpushing clerk involving maths; and a ‘rubber stamp’ although that sounds a little dated now?

  7. TJ says:

    Sounds like an idiom to me!
    in my dialect I don’t remember any specific term for such persons ALTHOUGH life here goes always on that trend; penpushers are EVERYWHERE where you need to do paperwork.

  8. TJ says:

    oh yeah maybe sometimes this thing is generally called “masked unemployment,” because it is like the person has a job, but it is really not something essential and he is not doing something productive, but to sign papers for no vital reason. Thus, the person is working, but his job is nothing, so he is unemployed, literally!

  9. Christopher Miller says:

    Not the same language, but this brings to mind a picturesque metaphor for “snowflake” in Occitan: plumalhon. It’s the title of a CD by the Gascon group Nadau, and of one of the songs in the album.

    The word breaks down as plum(a)+alh(a)+on: feather+[mass noun suffix]+[diminutive]. Plumalha is a mass of feathers: imagine them all flying in the air, and one small individual out of the mass is a plumalhon. And that’s what a snowflake in big, heavy snow looks like.

  10. Simon says:

    TJ – there’s a word in Japanese that describes people like that: 窓際族 (madogiwazoku) or the “window tribe”. These are people close to retirement or who have made mistakes in their work and are transferred to easy positions with little or nothing much to do, and often to desks by windows – hence the name.

  11. TJ says:

    @Simon: Interesting!
    my friend is fond of the Japanese culture, he will surely like this! 🙂

    I heard about “something” like that from one of my teachers in college days; he said as far as i remember that in a visit to Japan they toured a factory of some sort (maybe cars) nd there was actually a glass cubicle or a cube or a chamber of some sort. He said that in there, they keep a person who makes a mistake for the rest of his working day, just sitting there watching everyone doing some work while s/he doesn’t. Is it true? Or maybe my teacher was trying to catch our attention? lol

  12. Andrew says:

    Well of course the French have a word for this, their bureaucracy and their accompanying hate for it and its bureaucrats is legendary 😀


  13. Toni Brandys says:

    This reminds me of a similar discussion in the Language Log.

    In Spanish we have “chupatintas” (ink-sucker), but I don’t think new generations are using this word that much, I like it tho.

%d bloggers like this: