A colleague of mine refers to the people under him as his subordinates. These subordinates are, in most cases, highly educated, successful people. I consider the word subordinate to be an insult; to validate this, when I look it up in the online AHD, the number one definition is: "belonging to an inferior class." My thoughts, precisely!
Now, I want to be fair to this colleague. Do I take this word a lot more negatively than maybe I should?
You didn't mention that the second definition in AHD (and the first in most other dictionaries) is Subject to the authority or control of another.
To answer your question, no I don't look upon the word as an insult, and yes, you do take this word a lot more negatively than maybe you should. What suggestions do you have for an alternative word? Underlings, perhaps? Or maybe minions?
Build a man a fire and he's warm for a day. Set a man on fire and he's warm for the rest of his life.
Surely not underlings, and I haven't ever used the word minions before. Maybe I'd say "my staff." I only have one person under me, and I call her my "assistant." I don't think I could ever use "subordinate," but after your comment, at least I might be able to understand his perspective. I had thought about telling our boss (we have the same boss) that I found the word unacceptable. You've talked me out of that, now.
I would say that subordinates is a derogatory term. For me the word has three negative immages associated with it;
A Uriah Heep character
One ground down to conformity.
One often silently raging against the stupidity of his "superiors"
I will admit that the definition is not so intended but the dictionary is not the end of a words meaning.
It sounds like a formal, neutral term to me. I do detect that there could be a pejorative whiff about it, but on the whole I'd expect it to be in normal use.
I think the word subordinate is insulting. I don't even refer to the other people at my branch as "my staff" or "my employees" very often. They are my teammates. They are my folks. We are all in it together. I don't like heirarchy at work much.
"Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.
I don't like heirarchy at work either! The two libraries in which I've done reference work reeked of it, however. In the first, hardly a day went by that I was not reminded that I was a mere paraprofessional (although I did the same work as the "professional" librarians).
In the second, the distinction was more subtle, but it was definitely there.
I agree with you both, Sunflower and CW. My assistant makes my work better. She is my colleague, and certainly not my subordinate.
I was just wondering whether there is an English/American difference for the word "subordinate," and there very well may be, though Quark seems to agree that it is derogatory.
BTW, arnie mentioned that the second definition is "subject to the authority or control of another." I realize he also said that this is the first definition in most dictionaries. However, generally, isn't the first definition listed the one most commonly used?
This is all very well but, sooner or later, someone has to take a decision and take the responsibility for that decision. If everyone is equal then who's going to decide where the buck stops?
The definition of the word "discipline" as "punish, chastise, bring under control" is the 6th entry in the COED. But I'll bet it's the meaning that most people think of first.
for me, subordinate implies service. it is a clear statement of division of authority and, accordingly, responsibility. leadership requires an acknowledgement of ordination, of appointment to a position. it has a military as well as clerical ordination overtones, which would make someone of a proletariat background uncomfortable. there is an argument that states that to enforce unilateral cultural jargon creates an illusion of equality within a truth of servitude; that such language favours bourgeois divisiveness and is no more than a rose-coloured blinker. well, that's what i heard, anyway. if you are truly uncomfortable with hierarchical divisions of authority, and subsequently wage, then revolt! or use less distressing terms, and pass this obsequious culture of 'let's pretend' on to those that are subordinate to you such that they don't revolt against your authority. if it works for the person 'above' you, then it should trickle down nicely. or is the person above you not playing along and wants to call it like it is?
i reckon the whole system is horse and cart thinking, a 200 year-old theory that just didn't pan out like it was supposed to. but it did create the suffrage organisations, if you can call that a positive!
please excuse my abrasive style; i'm an aussie. in aus, we have 'tall poppy syndrome'; that is, if anyone sets themselves up as superior to the rest of us, we cut them down to size. it is a curse for celebrities and politicians, and is an extreme version of the rose-coloured blinkers that encourages despotic behaviours be well hidden and creates very savvy business types. so we aussies are much like yourself when it comes to 'superior language'.
as this site is a discussion on words, and to discuss the politics of language is philosophy, i'll quit with the manifestos and say, "i have no problem with 'subordinate'; it tells it like it is, and i appreciate that" or something along those lines.
As the leader of the team I take the fall if a bad choice is made, and I'm where the buck stops. That doesn't mean I'm going to lord it over the others. I'm not going to require that my teammates do things I will not do (although sometimes they do things I CAN'T do), and I'm not going to require them to handle the nastiest of customer problems unless they prefer to.
As the leader, I also see it as my responsibility to keep the folks supplied with emergency chocolate rations.
"Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.
Leadership means leading, not lording. It is a misconception held too often by leaders, and even more often by subordinates, that leadership is about use and abuse of power. It is not.
"Bad leaders are feared; better leaders are loved, but of the best leaders, in the end, when the job is done, their followers will say - we did it ourselves"
Lao Tse, Honan, China.
Forgive me if I have the quotation wrong; it is 40 years since I learnt it but it is still the watchword by which I abide when I lead others.
Imagine what the reaction would be if the president of a college referred to the professors as his "subordinates". The professors would be in an enraged uproar; they would surely take the term as demeaning to their dignity.
And notice the phrase "his subordinates", implying possession, ownership. Once again demeaning.
Arnie asks, "What suggestions do you have for an alternative word?" It depends on the context. In this context, the college president's should refer to "the faculty."
Kalleh notes the definition, "belonging to an inferior class." And arnie notes the additional definition, "Subject to the authority or control of another," which sounds descriptive but not perjorative.
Interestingly, OED combines these into a single definition; it does not consider the latter as separate.
it's important to consider that the context is work and not social environment. the police sergeant at the local cop-shop has subordinates that carry out the top cop's directives. it's the way the system works, and is not meant as a means of social division. indeed, the child of the chief of police who joins the force is subordinate to the sergeant that is subordinate to the chief. family or community status is not at issue. it's a technical term that is situation specific. mr. english is correct in saying that a leader that doesn't take charge is a liability to their subordinates. and, maybe, a good friend socially, too.
Richard, I love that quote...and it totally supports my position, in my mind. That is, the bad leaders I know (specifically the one I wrote about) lead by fear. The specific one I wrote about is a "bad" leader. He has been called anything from "arrogant" to "self-serving." His staff does not respect him, and therefore they don't do their best work for him. They don't have any desire to make his work better, as I think good leaders encourage. I left academia because of a boss like this; I am certain this dean saw all of us as her "subordinates."
The middle leaders who are loved can go to far in being their employees' friends. These employees will do their best for these bosses, but they also will take advantage of them. I have worked for somebody like this.
Excellent leaders don't do it by the caste system; they lead by role modeling and coaching, always taking advantage of their employees' strengths and working with them on their limitations. These leaders earn respect and the very best work of their employees. It is a wonderful thing to see a real leader, though there aren't many of them.
And, yes, as the boss in my small department, I do take responsibility when something goes wrong. I don't leave that to my wonderful assistant, who would never be my "subordinate."
oh dear; please don't get me wrong! the last thing i am is an advocate of enforced discipline.
the point is that the organisation for which you work is built/based upon the hierarchical model. it functions the way it does because of that. to use such a model's means with the intent of confounding it at a human level soas to create a feeling of equality in the face of the tiered system has been tried; by Russia in 1917. the reason America 'won' the cold war was because it didn't have any illusions about the model of capitalism being hierarchal in nature, often quoting the 'trickle-down effect' as its justification. it is dehumanising, but it is also successful within the boundaries of industrial economic theory.
i say again that i don't agree with the model as a 'good idea'; not at all.
to make the model work effectively, relationships must be observed, even ritualised (nuclear family, etc). it is very much so for the military. it stems from the need for efficient work practices within an economically aggressive environment. in short, money talks and humanity is muted by the sound of the machine. see? i am not in favour!
'from each according to their ability, to each according to their need' is the communist catch-cry that created such resentment from those that could give for those that could only take. to not be rewarded for one's efforts is against (current) human nature to accept. that is why the hierarchical system works (in comparison). to encourage a feeling of camaraderie in the face of the 'truth' of the structure that provides your income is admirable, but if that intrudes on the workings of the system that feeds you, you will be considered a liability to that system.
encourage the illusion, if you have that option; but to deny the systems machinations is to let down the person you are trying to elevate.
you also risk demeaning them by insisting that their personal integrity is challenged or even diminished by their job. it's a default situation; by bestowing equality on them you assume them to be less to start with. slippery rocks indeed...
i agree with you that fostering a feeling of teamwork is a great way of creating a positive and successful environment, but that is only your job as the person in charge!
I hope I haven’t alienated you unduly, Kalleh.
Sean B (beans)