The Grammarphobia Blog

Job listings

Q: I work for a state agency in the Midwest responsible for employment assistance. The question of the day at my office: ‘”Jobseeker” or “job seeker,” which is correct? There’s nothing in the old style book from my days as a reporter. And my dictionary is no help. While it lists “jobholder,” it’s silent on “jobseeker” or “job seeker.” Please help.

A: The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed.), one of the references I use the most, has an entry for “job seeker” that includes “jobseeker” as an acceptable though a less frequently used variant.

The Oxford English Dictionary, on the other hand, has an entry for “jobseeker,” but has many published references for the two-word version.

H-m-m! From the OED citations, it seems that the two-word version is more popular in the US and the one-worder in the UK. I’d recommend using “job seeker” in the US

In fact, the one-word “jobseeker” has taken on a somewhat different sense in Britain than “job seeker” has in the United States.

In the US, the term means simply one who seeks work. But in Britain, the OED says, it has the additional meaning of “an unemployed person required to demonstrate efforts to find work in order to qualify for government benefits.”

The term was two words when it first appeared in print a century and a half ago. It seems to have gained its somewhat pejorative sense in Britain about 30 years ago.

By the way, the term “job hunter,” which has appeared as one word, two words, and hyphenated, has been around even longer. The earliest citation in the OED is from an 1834 comment in The Royal Lady’s Magazine about “harangues of the parliamentary job-hunters.”

Should it be one word? Two words? Or hyphenated? Well, American Heritage lists the two-word “job hunter,” while the Random House Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary prefers the hyphenated “job-hunter.” In other words, it’s your call.

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