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You Don't Say John E. McIntyre writes about language, usage, journalism & arbitrarily chosen subjects.

In a word: sinecure

The Baltimore Sun

Each week The Sun's John McIntyre presents a moderately obscure but evocative word with which you may not be familiar — another brick to add to the wall of your working vocabulary. This week's word:


A colleague from a newspaper I am not naming told me several years ago about his paper’s Hall of the Immortals.

It was a corridor with offices on each side and titles on the doors, and in those offices sat middle managers who had bungled every previous assignment, finally fetching up there in an office with an inflated but meaningless title and no work of any importance. The rest of the staff took to calling that corridor the Hall of the Immortals.

Each of the Immortals held a sinecure (pronounced SIN-uh-kyoor or SIGH-nuh-kyoor), a position with wages but little or no work.

The word comes originally from a Latin ecclesiastical term, beneficium sine cure, a benefice, or office with an income attached, without the cure, or care, of souls.

Example: From Martin Smith’s Gorky Park: “To Comrade Schmidt we drink a toast not because he's gained a sinecure at a District Committee doing crossword puzzles and selling office supplies on the side, because I can remember once taking home a paper clip myself.”

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