The phrase "Job Lot" is used in auctions to mean an often assorted quantity of something, for example a "job lot of bicycle parts" could be a load of tyres, wheels, handlebars, frames, chains, etc.

I figure that 'lot' probably comes from the 'lot number' in an auction, or from the fact that there is a large quantity (a lot) of the items. But what about 'job' - what does that mean in this context?

  • Pretty reasonable guess: Since OED lot 2 = An item or set of items for sale at an auction: And since an an auctioneer's auction for a specific customer = a job. All the worthless junk sold at the end of the auction is the job lot.
    – ScotM
    Feb 25, 2015 at 1:22
  • One possibility is that it comes from "jobber"="wholesaler", where the "lot" of materials is (as with the bike parts example) what one might buy/sell in a wholesale transaction.
    – Hot Licks
    Feb 25, 2015 at 2:05
  • "any jobber got the sack, Monday morning turning back..." sure, it's from auctioneering / the stock market / wholesale-retail commerce.
    – Fattie
    Feb 25, 2015 at 3:57

3 Answers 3


John Camden Hotten, The Slang Dictionary; Or, The Vulgar Words, Street Phrases, and "Fast Expressions of High and Low Society (1864) has a couple of interesting entries for job:

JOB, a short piece of work, a prospect of employment. [Samuel] Johnson describes JOB as a low word, without etymology. It is, and was, however, a Cant word, and a JOB, two centuries ago, was an arranged robbery. Even at the present day it is mainly confined to the streets, in the sense of employment for a short time. ...

JOB, “a JOB lot," otherwise called a "sporting lot," any miscellaneous goods purchased at a cheap rate, or to be sold a bargain. Frequently used to conceal the fact of their being stolen, or otherwise dishonestly obtained.

As Hotten reports, Johnson's Dictionary of the English Language (1756) does not provide an etytmology for job, and it offers these as the first two definitions of job as a noun:

JOB. s. 1. A low mean lucrative busy affair. 2. Petty, piddling work ; a piece of chance work.

Early occurrences of 'job lot'

One of the earliest occurrences of the term "job lot" turned up by a Google Books search is from a transcript of the case of *Cornish & Sievier v. Keene & Another* (January 30, 1837), a patent case heard in the Court of Common Pleas:

Robert Cox sworn. Examined by Mr. Attorney-General.—I purchased some goods of Mr. Godby on 31st of May 1833; it was called a job lot ; I am not aware I ever bought any other. I made the purchase in behalf of Mr. Lee ; I am acquainted with the nature of the alternate web [for weaving]. I cannot say any of those were of that quality ; what I recall of them was, that they were of original quality.

Also, from "Commercial Solicitors," in The North of England Magazine (May 1843):

The two most celebrated commercial solicitors in Manchester are Mr. Pixton, of the house of Rapperton and Rodney ; and Mr. Leadbeater, of the house of Murdockson, Nephew, and Fox. Both of these gentlemen are in the same line of business, therefore of course they are rivals. ...

Mr. Leadbeater, on the contrary, is blunt and gruff in his demeanour, offering his goods to your notice as if he did not care the value of a bill-stamp whether you buy from him or not. ... He talks as long as he can compel you to listen to him, pouring his words into your ear against the stomach of your sense, and interlarding his discourse with offensive expletives ... suggests the probability of one of his principles, Mr. Murdockson, (who, by the way, has published a pamphlet on the corn laws) being requested to stand for the borough in the event of a dissolution—and concludes by offering you a "job lot" of Bandannas at fifteen per cent under prime cost.

And from "Narrative of Law and Crime," in The Household Narrative of Current Events (September 27, 1851):

On the 18th, Charles Whicher, green-grocer, was tried for Staeling, and John Saward, a draper in the Commercial Road East, for Feloniously Receiving a case of merinos and mousseline-de-laine, the property of the South-western Railway, to whom it had been intrusted for conveyance from Southampton to London, for Messrs. Candy. ... The three [Whicher and two other men] sold the property and divided the proceeds. Mr. Saward was the purchaser. He met the others at a public house, and agreed to give 56*l*. for the good ; he paid the money by instalments ; he got a receipt signed "H. Roney" ; the goods were called a "job lot." The wholesale value of the property thus purchased was 147*l*. Saward sold some of the merino in his shop at 4*s*. l1*d*. per yard ; the wholesale value was 10*s*. 6*d*. Serjeant Wilkins contended for Saward, that he had fairly bought the goods as a "job lot," and that he had behaved like an innocent man when the officers came to his house about the goods.

It thus appears that a "job lot," in the first half of the nineteenth century, referred to a one-off batch of resellable items, often either of substandard quality or of odd quantity, and not always obtained from a well-established and legitimate source of supply. Then and later, according to Hotten, the term job retained a somewhat unsavory character, owing to its origins in the 1600s as a cant word.

But John Sangster, The Rights and Duties of Property (1851), and Henry Mayhew, London Labour and the London Poor (1851), describe the "job lot" market as constituting a full-time trade for a whole class of middlemen and purveyors, and as involving legitimate commerce.

  • This phrase seems to have remained a BrE phrase, although most dictionaries do not label it as such.
    – Eddie Kal
    Apr 7, 2020 at 4:34
  • Excellent answer with insightful references. In the North East U.S. we have a discount retailer, "Ocean State Job Lot", which in fact stocks groups of items of dubious quality and uneven quantity.
    – Mr.Budris
    May 22, 2021 at 12:54

Another guess. http://www.learnersdictionary.com/definition/job #5 says, "Informal: A thing of somekind."
I bought one of those little quilted jobs [=items, numbers] at the craft fair.

This would make sense as the "lot" is a group of "jobs" that are things of some kind.

  • no, that is a far, far more recent slang usage (I think based on the same general "jobber" .. as in the Beatles song quoted).
    – Fattie
    Feb 25, 2015 at 3:58

The Etymology dictionary also lists job (v) from 1660s, "to buy and sell as a broker." http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?allowed_in_frame=0&search=job&searchmode=none

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