In a word . . . work

Then there were those secular Freudian sanctifications of work as sublimated lust

Ah yes, work. The four-letter word. "The curse of the drinking classes," was how Oscar Wilde defined it. And so it is.

Lauded since time immemorial, for obvious reasons, it has been described as prayer – as in "laborare est orare", to work is to pray (hah!) – and more accurately as punishment for sin. Indeed, the greatest sin.

The King James Bible tells us that Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden of Eden for a divine disobedience with the words: "In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return."

And, lo, original sin was born, from which all other sin is descended.


So began the sanctification of work, reaching its highest point with that dispiriting phrase about genius being "1 per cent inspiration and 99 per cent perspiration". So, why bother? Light bulb moments are rare. Indeed the phrase was coined by none other than Thomas Edison, inventor of the light bulb.

Then there were those secular Freudian sanctifications of work as sublimated lust. Desire deferred and channelled into creating civilisation and all that pertains thereto. Better lives for a better sort of person.

All nonetheless demanding similar sweat of brow and vigilant effort even as “hard work without talent is a shame, and talent without hard work is a tragedy”.

I have always had suspicions about hard work. My late father would insist it never killed anyone. I wished he was alive last month. I would have pointed out to him how wrong he was and taken pleasure in it too.

I would have drawn his attention to the story of 30-year-old Miwa Sado who died of heart failure after working 159 hours of overtime in one month at Japan’s national public service broadcaster NHK where she was a reporter.

She was found dead in her bed in July 2013 clutching a mobile phone. An inquest in 2014 concluded her death was linked to excessive overtime. She had taken two days off in the month before she died.

The story only became public last month because her parents insisted it be done to prevent it happening again. RIP Miwa. You have done us all some service. All editors please copy!

Work: from Old English weorc, worc, meaning "something done, physical labor, toil".