• goldbrick •
Pronunciation: gold-brik •
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. A bar of gold. 2. A shirker, a pretender, a person who dodges work or duties out of laziness.
Notes: Obviously, today's word may refer to a brick cast from gold; however, it is no longer used in that sense. Brick now refer almost exclusively to the building material and gold bars are called ingots. In fact, today's word is used more frequently now as a verb than as a noun: to goldbrick means "to shirk or only pretend to work, to avoid shouldering one's duties".
In Play: Goldbricking is a symptom of an ailing workplace, but it is found anywhere we find a job to be done, "The company went down under the sheer weight of the goldbricks it accumulated over the years." This word is another we inherited from military life (see Warspeak in our Library). In his novel, Once there was a War (1959), John Steinbeck wrote, "In the ranks, billeted with the stinking, cheating, foul-mouthed goldbricks, there were true heroes."
Word History: The second meaning of today's word originated in the late 19th century in reference to a swindle in which a fake goldbrick was created out of base metal except for one corner, which was solid gold. The entire brick was then gold plated. The mountebankbehind the scheme would then offer the brick for sale in hope that some naïf would test only the corner and buy the brick for solid gold. The colloquial sense of a goldbrick then became "a fake" and by World War I it was applied to those who faked wounds to avoid combat. By World War II it referred to any kind of shirker in the Army, a sense which was absorbed by the general vocabulary after the war. (Deb Trimmer is certainly no goldbrick, having done an excellent job in suggesting we look into the story behind today's Good Word.)