Wednesday, March 23, 2016


Being back to work again has brought back a number of stories.  Such as the time that a payroll department error seriously over paid me...and they would not take it back.

Oh, I suppose I could have just said "thanks!" and gotten on with life but these are good folks and I wanted to be fair.  So I kept showing up regularly at a rate of $0 an hour until I had worked off my debt.

I was in fact an Indentured Servant.

But it was not until recently that I started thinking about the word "indentured".  It is one of those things you run across way back in middle school history classes and probably never again.  In Colonial days and early American history it was fairly common for people of modest means to sign a contract with a rich person.  Pay for my passage to the new world, give me Room and Board and I will work for you for a set number of years.

It had about it a slightly disreputable air but I think that is because the implication was that it was somewhat like a watered down version of slavery.  For Caucasians.  In that context my first thought on the word's origins was negative.  Indenture sounds rather as if someone was caught in the no doubt sharp teeth (Latin dentis) of a cruel master.  But that's not right.

The term goes back to the Middle Ages, but not so far back that relationships were entirely predatory. By the late 14th century a master craftsman and an apprentice would have an actual written contract drawn up.  It would be on a big piece of parchment with identical text on either end of it.  The blank space between the two blocks of text would then be cut in a zig zag pattern and each party to the deal got one end of the now divided document.  If there was ever a dispute about details each side would bring their copy before a judge and if the serrated sections matched up it was clear that each party held a valid legal document.

The word comes to us from Latin via the Old French stopping point endenteure. This source also gives us "indent" and the meaning in each case is that something looks as if it has tooth marks on it.

Later versions were obviously rather stylized and simplified.  As this does not appear to mar the text of the document I see no reason I cannot take a scissors to the top edge of my contract and make a similar modification.  This of course would only be for my personal amusement but I often find that quite sufficient reason for doing something.

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