iPods, podcasts and Pod People: Progress shapes our life, and the lexicon

By Jim Bright

New forms of work demand new words. And when jobs become obsolete or rare, their descriptions fall out of the lexicon.

Typically, technology has a hand in the birth and death of work, and in its accompanying language.

Twenty-one years ago, almost to the week, the iPod hit the market. Last year it was discontinued. The use of the term ‘pod’, however, remains and has spawned a family of jobs.

The iPod has been discontinued, but the use of the term ‘pod’ remains.
The iPod has been discontinued, but the use of the term ‘pod’ remains.Credit: The New York Times

Apparently the copywriter Vinnie Chieco naming Apple’s music player was inspired by watching the science fiction film 2001: A Space Odyssey that included the line “Open the pod bay door, Hal!”

The word ‘pod’ is a 17th-century form of the thoroughly modern sounding ‘podware’ – which is actually a Middle English word to describe seeds of legumes or seed grain.

By the 1950s, science fiction had Pod People – plant-like alien life forms sent to earth to replicate people. Which brings us to Gideon Haigh and Peter Lalor, who in addition to their journalistic and writing pursuits now have the relatively new job title of podcasters, presenting Cricket, Etcetera.

So the combined influences of cricket and technology spawned the new job of cricket podcaster. A brief perusal of Seek jobs website had 218 jobs associated with podcast. There you will find the role of ‘copywriter’, which completes the circle given how it was a copywriter that gave new life to the term pod. Also, there is ‘audio imager’, who is apparently a ‘sound designer’ and ‘storyteller’.

Placing our feet firmly on the ground once more, we must not forget ‘podiatrist’, which is an early 20th-century offshoot (feet, of course, have been around a bit longer, until we went metric).


Getting back to cricket, I learned from the utterly brilliant Australian novel about cricket bat-making, music, and life called Willowman by Inga Simpson of the term ‘pod shaver’ – someone who carves willow pods into cricket bats. Simpson says the word has been dropped from the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). It certainly didn’t make it into my OED Shorter from 1993, nor could I find it on the OED’s online site.

However, some academics from Nottingham argue that there is a pod shaving revival afoot. In a 2021 paper presented at the 18th Rural Entrepreneurship Conference in Swansea, they argue that rural entrepreneurs have caused a re-birth in authentic artisanal cricket bats in the UK. They compare it to the growth in artisanal cheesemaking.

Apparently the numbers have doubled and not just in Gloucester. In the Willowman, cricketers Todd and Liv Harrow’s parents are cheesemakers, perhaps no coincidence.

Work and language are constantly evolving and co-dependent. Work occupies so much of our time, and requires continual learning and specialisation that inevitably words must be carved out the lexicon much as a bat is carved from what was once a growing willow, to help us describe and understand these new ways of being.

Jobs like words can go out of fashion, or become obsolete – but just occasionally, like pod shavers, they can be reborn. As in all aspects of life, the present informs the future and the past and the past informs the present and the future.

Dr Jim Bright, FAPS owns Bright and Associates, a career management consultancy and is a director at ed tech startup Become Education. Email to [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @DrJimBright

The Business Briefing newsletter delivers major stories, exclusive coverage and expert opinion. Sign up to get it every weekday morning.

Most Viewed in Business

Source: Thanks smh.com