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This answer describes the American English term "stock associate", as meaning a relatively low paid store worker who fills shelves.

By contrast, high status work seems to have the job descriptor after the word "associate" ("associate director", "associate justice", "associate" member of some professional body).

Is it always/usually the case, that "associate" after the rest of the job title would have a different significance to "associate" before the rest of the job title? If so, why?

  • They're arbitrary, ideosyncratic job titles. There isn't really any logic to it. – Barmar Apr 24 at 7:09
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    Note that in your second set of examples, "associate" means they have less power. An associate justice is a lower job than the chief justic. An associate producer is lower than an executive producer. – Barmar Apr 24 at 7:11
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    The first kind are euphemisms. They used to call stock associates "stock boys", which was demeaning (not to mention sexist). Changing to "associate" makes it sound more important. – Barmar Apr 24 at 7:13
  • Even arbitrary terms and societally functional (non-swear) euphemisms get chosen and used because they feel like they fit, or feel like they are appropriate. When scrutinised they are often revealing and not arbitrary at all. Why was the widely adopted term not "associate stocker" or "associate stock manager" or something fitting with existing usage, if that was the case, for example? Why the different word order vs. the "status" usage? Not sure that "because it is", really reveals the factors behind the order difference when the use of "X associate" gained traction for lower paid work. – Stilez Apr 24 at 11:46
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The order "associate X" uses "associate" as an adjective. This form is used when the job is a variation of X. For instance, associate justice and chief justice are types of justices, and associate producer is a lower-ranked producer. The relevant definitions from Merriam-Webster are

  1. closely connected (as in function or office) with another : sharing in responsibility or authority
  2. having secondary or subordinate status

The order "X associate" uses "associate" as a noun, and X modifies it. This is used when the job relates to X. A stock associate works with stock, a sales associate makes sales. The relevant definitions are:

  1. a. PARTNER, COLLEAGUE
  2. a. an entry-level member (as of a learned society, professional organization, or profession)

In many cases, the "X associate" terms have arisen as euphemisms that make these jobs sound more important. Stock associates used to be called stock boys, sales associates were sales clerks or salesmen/saleswomen.

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    Interesting and plausible. Any references for it? That would also imply that in "Associate X", X is a job role, while in "X associate", X is an object or entity which might be central to the role but isn't a role itself? But if so, why is "stock" different from "justice"? Or is the latter being used in the sense of "justice=person working in law" rather than "justice=that which is the central focus of such a person"? Can you elaborate the answer a bit? Thanks. – Stilez Apr 24 at 11:53
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    justice is a synonym for judge. – Barmar Apr 24 at 11:53
  • I've added some dictionary definitions that help. – Barmar Apr 24 at 12:01
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    @Stilez I am now imagining a police officer getting their position retitled to "justice associate". – nick012000 Apr 25 at 8:36
  • @nick012000 "law enforcement associate" is not unlikely ("legal associate" sounds like an assistant to a lawyer). Note that "police officer" is already an evolution from "policeman" or simply "cop". – Barmar Apr 25 at 15:45

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