Workers of the world, unite! And so they were united, if not all over the world at least in the U.S.A., and if not exactly united, at least marching in procession, from A to Z, from Abalone Diver to Zyglo Inspector, in the U.S. Department of Labor's magnum opus, the Dictionary of Occupational Titles. Here the Football Scout and the Fortune Teller -- sharing, they hope, a touch of intuitive genius as well as alphabetical kinship -- are next-door neighbors; here the Harpist and the Harness Racer stand side by side. These and more (more than 20,000 of them) -- the Organ Tuner and the Fig Washer, the Upsetter, the Upsetter Helper and the Upsetter Setter-Up (these last from the metal-forging industry) -- are described and analyzed in one of the most irresistible compendiums ever produced by a governmental agency, or indeed by anyone.
The first edition of the Dictionary of Occupational Titles, known with some affection as DOT, was produced in 1939 and has never been out of print. Its fourth and most recent edition, which came out in 1977, was produced through the efforts of 75,000 on-site analysis field centers of state employment services.
The first DOT was a byproduct of the state employment systems created in the 1930s, one of many Roosevelt initiatives designed to aid U.S. workers during the Depression. To help people work, you had to know what they did, so the government set out to define every job in the country and identify it with a number. The system they produced is elegant: the DOT code, a nine-digit number that encapsulates -- with respect to any job you've ever heard of and thousands more -- everything. The first three numbers identify an occupational group (Lawyers or Luggage Repairers), while the final three differentiate a particular occupation from others (Admiralty Lawyers).
But the central three digits are where the action is -- the unvarnished truth, the straight stuff on what folks do on weekdays. Those numbers, known as the Occupational Title, refer to data, people and things. They indicate, on numerical scales, the sophistication demanded by a particular job.
Take, for example, the Weather Observer, from the sound of it perhaps a laid-back profession to be envied on those days when blue smoke rises from your telephone and it rains memos -- the days when you think anything, anything but this. But no, the DOT code says otherwise. Whoever "observes and records weather conditions for use in broadcasting" and "periodically observes general weather, sky and visibility conditions" (so far so good, just open the window) must also, alas, "read barometers and hydrometers, must transmit and receive teletype data from other stations" and "may collect upper-air data on temperature, humidity and winds, using weather balloon and radiosonde equipment, and may also conduct briefings."
With the help of DOT, you can at least dream a little. Would life be better as a Riverboat Captain, a Music Librarian, a Cryptanalyst, Steeple Jack, Comparison Shopper or Goldsmith? Maybe.
But if the job change didn't work out, what then? Another move, perhaps to the garment industry to work as a Collar Turner, a Cuff Creaser or a Fly Setter. Would you have an easier time as a Bow-String Maker? Bologna Lacer? Scallop Raker? Blintz Roller? As a Feather Stitcher, you'd be sewing the feathers of shuttlecocks together by hand, subject to the ups and downs of the badminton business. Or perhaps you'd want to become a Brain Picker. (Don't ask -- suffice to say it is not a position in an advertising agency.) None of those? Then it's off to the laundry industry to work as a Bosom Presser, or a Hot-Head-Machine Operator. Still not happy? Okay, what you want is the old 159.347-018, Human Projectile, known in former days as the Human Cannonball.
Now, to rewrite your re'sume'. Or maybe not.
The DOT is a model of good technical writing: clear and concise. For example, this terse anthem to the Fly Tier: "Makes artificial fish flies and lures, using feathers, fur, thread, and fishhooks, according to prototype design. Clamps fishhook in vise and wraps thread around shank or hook. Pulls feathers or fur from quill or pelt, positions on hook, and wraps in place with thread. Repeats operation to simulate wings, legs, and tail of insect. Wraps thread or colored wire around shank of hook in continuous spirals to form body of insect. Ties and cuts off thread. May brush dope on windings to waterproof and hold them in place."
And on and on, the Mannequin Wig Maker and the Bowling Alley Detective, the Wreath Inspector and the Weight Guesser, the Car Whacker, the Feather Boner and the Hammer Driver, the Blaster, the Blocker, the Starcher, the Slimer and the Panama Hat Smearer, all the way to that Zyglo Inspector -- who uses a penetrating fluorescent solution, Zyglo, to detect surface defects in metals.
The DOT is something of a U.S. Government Printing Office bestseller -- 360,000 copies of the 1977 edition having been sold to date. A fifth edition is planned for 1993. Preparation is a formidable task, says Donna Dye of the federal Division of Occupational Analysis. "Because the DOT depends on the on-site interview, it's very costly and time-consuming."
This view is confirmed by Bruce Page, occupational analyst supervisor at the North Carolina Employment Service Commission, where the new edition is being prepared. But Page acknowledges his job is made easier by the extraordinary quality of material. "It's like Walt Whitman's 'I Hear America Singing,' " says Page, who keeps a list of vanishing job titles. Gone is the Bull of the Woods, a timber-industry worker; the Bow Fisherman, who shot fish with bow and arrow; and the employee whose job it was to sing to cigar makers as they worked, to ease the repetitiveness of the task.
Still, the book is a kind of tribute to a world where people do just about everything, the world of the Rattlesnake Farmer and the Reindeer Rancher, the Queen Producer and the Quail Farmer, the Rose Grader, the Ginseng Farmer and the Goat-Truck Driver, the Mouse Breeder and the Moss Picker, the Nut Sorter and the Wool Sacker, the Worm Picker and the picker's faithful sidekick, the Worm-Bed Attendant.