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Did you ever wonder where the terms Journeyman and Master come from?

The dictionary describes a Journeyman as a ”worker who has learned a trade and works for another by the day” (Webster).

Fun fact, “journey” itself has an antiquated definition of “a day’s labor” hailing from the 14th century. In the 15th century we see journeyman for the first time, referring to a person who, as an apprentice, has learned a skill or trade and hires out for daily wages.

Things went south in the 16th century when, for some reason, journeyman became associated with doing drudgery for another; here may be the beginnings of our cultural stigma associating necessary daily work with a lower class status. It stands to reason Lords and Ladies would not have been required to perform handicraft skills.

Oddly, as time marched on, that very elevation of status became the albatross of the upper class; they had very few skills. When “great families” fell upon hard times they either had to marry their way out of the predicament or fall. They had been trained only in social graces. Look at the history of many of the Great Houses of Britain. More than one was torn down, hundreds of year of possessions and land sold because no one had acquired the education or skills to keep the great estates running.

And the term Master?

First seen in the 13th century, the Olde English magister, from the Latin magnus for large.

Among several definitions, “ a worker or artisan qualified to teach an apprentice”, one who has chief authority, skilled and proficient.

Given these historical facts, it makes sense that we still have the structure of a registered electrical apprentice, under the tutelage of both Journeyman and Masters, schooling while they work in the trade to graduate, after four years, as Journeyman themselves.

If they invest another four years in their education, they may go on to become Master Electricians.

Now you know.

Grant Shmelzer
Executive Director, IEC Chesapeake