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It's quite typical to see "Help wanted" signs in cases some business has an open position. That can be some temporary position or even a permanent one.

Why is it called "help"? Why not "we're hiring" or something? I mean, "help" usually means some unpaid activity—why is this word used when referring to a job?

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We're hiring is/was also used a lot. –  mplungjan Mar 28 '11 at 9:18
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up vote 8 down vote accepted

This is an interesting question because under an apparently mundane topic it actually touches upon fundamental characteristics of flexible workforce countries such as for instance the US, Australia and to a lesser degree the UK.

The word "help" is actually a deliberate choice because it suggests that the helper will voluntarily step forward and is implicitly willingly bringing in some added value. A popular cliché for this kind of ad is that of a teenage helper working part-time in a Midwest hardware shop.

There is no commitment either on the duration of the job from the employer's side. It's just help; and it implicitly stops when it is not needed any more.

If you go back a few centuries ago when there were very few large companies and the vast majority of jobs on the market were proposed by farmers or small rural businesses, that makes perfect sense and can thus be interpreted in the context of the natural application of the law of demand and offer to the job marketplace.

Now that the contribution of medium to large size companies to employment is more significant, stable jobs are more dominant. As a result, the corresponding offers are thus more frequently formulated using the "hiring" word than the "help wanted" expression. Compare for instance the "position available" and "help wanted" phrases. The former does indeed look more stable than the latter.

A side conclusion is that, the "help wanted" sign being phrased by the job offerer reflects his own rationale and interest.

In contrast, it is also probably easy to explain why job requesters don't phrase their request in such terms as "good salary for life wanted". If that formula would work, you'd probably see more of these ;-)

Conversely you have very few of "best job in the world" offers. Although they seem to be quite successful ;-)

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In these cases, I believe help refers to a person.

Definition below

A person employed to help, especially a farm worker or domestic servant.

This is equivalent to "Secretary Wanted" or "Driver Wanted" or {insert any other role}.

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Help among the more common meanings is also an archaic way of saying "paid assitance." Though we don't use it anymore to mean paid assitance, the expression "Help wanted" stuck.

Another example is the expression "It's hard to find good help these days..." Though the expression is commonly used, help also in this case derives from an archaic usage for "paid assistance."

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Because it is a headline and so follows the style of what you might find in newspapers. Headlines are most frequently made short for example. 'Jackson dead' or 'cure found' and don't usually come as full sentences. As for the use of the word 'help' then help can be paid for. You could say to a private investigator 'I need you to help me in finding my lost brother.' but you would have to pay for the service.

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I'm thinking it's a short for "hired help"

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