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I have been trying to find a word to describe someone who routinely abuses their workers, and perhaps even more than that, scorns them and sees them as inferior. My first guess was despot but I think that is more routinely used within the context of political leaders.

I appreciate any feedback.

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  • 1
    I don't think that there is a good single word that expresses the concept well, but if two words are fine for you "abusive manager" or "abusive boss" is clear enough. Mar 8 at 4:37
  • 5
    "Tyrant" would also come under the heading of bad boss/bad political leader
    – Richard
    Mar 8 at 14:35
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    "Workplace bully" might work.
    – andrewf
    Mar 8 at 16:24
  • 1
    Informally, "Asshole" (UK: "Arsehole").
    – nigel222
    Mar 9 at 13:46
  • 1
    A Marxist would say "a capitalist".
    – siride
    Mar 9 at 19:52

4 Answers 4

30

A slave driver (informal)

someone who makes another person work very hard with little or no help or remuneration.

(Collins Dictionary)

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    No, I don't think this should be the accepted answer. This is different from what was asked. The workers could easily be abused and scorned, and yet adequately paid or even well-paid. I think the question was asking about how they were treated, apart from remuneration. Erwin Bolwidt's comment answer of "abusive manager" or "abusive boss" is much better, in my opinion.
    – Jeff Roe
    Mar 8 at 17:16
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    @JeffRoe: "Slavedriver" can still be used metaphorically to mean a harsh taskmaster, even if the workers are ultimately paid well. Mar 9 at 8:22
12

You could use

taskmaster [noun]

a person who imposes a harsh or onerous workload on someone.

  • "he was a hard taskmaster"

[Lexico]

There is a related question here, What is a word for someone who likes bossing people around?, where you will find martinet / despot / tyrant / harridan / battleax ... more scathing, but these aren't largely confined to the corporate arena.

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    I suggest a "hard taskmaster" is about rigidity and strictness, not abuse or unfairness. Mar 7 at 18:29
  • I don't think 'harsh' stops there. Mar 7 at 19:08
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    Edwin, I don't understand. Are you saying "Taskmaster" is not meant to be a neutral term, very like the "gangmaster" many of us might be surprised to note still has clear and useful meaning in modern British labour law? I'm suggesting that in and of itself, "taskmaster" is no worse - nor better - than "foreman" or "overseer" or "supervisor". Mar 7 at 19:20
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    Which "or", Edwin? Is that the "or" in "harsh or onerous…" or what? Mar 7 at 19:43
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    I say no adjective. Taskmaster isn't a job title -- it's a replacement to imply bossiness: "I'll try to make it if the taskmaster lets me" is making fun of your boss (or spouse). Of course it can have adjectives, but so can anything. Mar 8 at 2:17
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Suitable candidates might be "user" or "exploiter" or even simply "abuser."

Others include "bully" and "dictator" as well as "martinet" and "little Napoleon."

I suggest there is no recognised single word, nor phrase for what you've described so far.

Can you say in much more detail how the workers are being abused, and for what reason?

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Another term (though probably not as well understood in a politically correct era, is: "Simon Legree."

Britannica

…the brutal Simon Legree, Tom’s new owner, has Tom whipped to death after he refuses to divulge the whereabouts of certain escaped slaves.
From Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Simon Legree (n.)

A tyrannical, brutal slave-owner. Later usually in weakened use: an exacting, merciless taskmaster. Lexico, OED

2005 N.Y. Times (National ed.) 5 June iii. 10/4 I had one boss early in my career who was very bright but would lose his temper... My job was to be the buffer between that Simon Legree and the rest of the troops. (OED)

Any cruel taskmaster. Webster's New World Dictionary, Third ed.

A brutal taskmaster. AHD


American trade-unions are rendering a useful service to freedom in their campaign of telling European trade-unions the trust about Soviet Working conditions. As an additional service, it is suggested that American unions distribute translations, without comment, of Russia's incredibly cruel labor laws, with her Simon Legree penalties for petty infractions. "The dictatorship of the proletariat" is the dictatorship over the proletariat. Peter Viereck; Shame and Glory of the Intellectuals (2017)

The reason the staff feels – quite rightly – I am a Simon Legree is first, because the opposition when I came down here was such that I had to be hard to get anywhere with an eastern staff annoyed at the idea of a westerner coming in; second, because ... J.F.B. Livesay in Gene Allen; Making National News (2014)

“You've Got the Word” No one likes to be Simon Legree, but all I could say is: “You've got the word now. Todd Ream; Hesburgh of Notre Dame (2021)

Uncle Tom's Cabin gave U.S. culture a series of characters—some would say stereotypes—that became household names over the following century: ... Simon Legree, the slavetrader whose very name became a virtual synonym for calculating, heartless evil; ... Jim Cullen; The Art of Democracy (2002)

Then when we got it down to 3.8 percent or 3.7 percent, I went in to report to this arm twister, this taskmaster, this Simon Legree, and his answer was, “3.7 percent where?” And we said, “In the country." Proceedings of the Constitutional Convention of the AFL-CIO (1967)

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    Or, for that matter, "Scrooge".
    – GEdgar
    Mar 8 at 14:19
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    Can you give more details to this suggestion? Explain why is 'Simon Legree' is relevant here.
    – Mitch
    Mar 9 at 15:49
  • Simon Legree was the rather bad overseer in "Uncle Tom's Cabin."
    – ttw
    Mar 9 at 19:17
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    @DnjinTonic Making a guess, but I'd never heard of this before; I assume it's regional or maybe a part of the AAVE dialect? Not many people read Uncle Tom's Cabin nowadays...
    – nick012000
    Mar 10 at 13:36
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    @nick012000 That may be true, but lesser-known words/terms are often offered as (possible) answers on ELU. IMO a downvote should be reserved for an answer that the voter judges to be wrong or that contains incorrect information. I agree that ttw should have offered a definition with their answer, which fits the question to a T. It's not marked as regional or even U.S. in the definitions I've seen.
    – DjinTonic
    Mar 10 at 14:48

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