Grunt work

中国日报网 2017-06-06 15:41



Grunt work

Reader question:

Someone, talking about his job, said he’s “currently stuck doing grunt work”. What does it mean exactly?

My comments:

It means that this person complains a lot, that’s for sure – because he doesn’t like the job he is doing. It’s either too tiring or too boring, too repetitive or otherwise unpleasant. He doesn’t get any pleasure doing it.

Grunt, you see, is the short, low sound we make from the throat, usually when we are doing heavy physical work or when we are unhappy.

Therefore, you may take grunt work as work that literally makes you grunt, grunt a lot and grunt incessantly.

In our example, the person needs a change of scene because right now (“currently”) he feels “stuck”, fixed in the same place doing a job that gives him little pleasure, just lots of whining.

If his job involves a lot of physical labor, like the job of a brick layer, then he grunts because it’s too much hard work and too tedious, repetitive, not to mention that it lacks fun, glamour and prestige.

If he works in an office, on the other hand, then his job may be equally dull, repetitive and uninspiring. The job of the old typist, for instance, can be considered boring for many because of its monotonous and unchanging nature.

Anyways, the person in our example is probably looking for another job, a different one, one that, hopefully, brings a little joy and happiness to his daily life.

Right now, we may say that his job makes him kind of feel like an ass, if you don’t mind – that is, like a donkey doing what is known as “donkey work”.

Donkey work?

That’s grunt work befitting a donkey, okay?

Okay and all right, let’s read a few recent examples of “grunt work” in the media:

1. A teacher who sits in lounges and libraries doing nothing all day — sometimes even napping — is challenging the city to make him earn his $94,000 salary.

“I come to work every day, sit down and do nothing,” said David Suker, who spent 15 years helping “at risk” teens in the Bronx earn a general equivalency diploma, or GED.

Suker, 48, complains he is “warehoused” in the Absent Teacher Reserve, a pool of educators without permanent jobs that costs an estimated $100 million a year. Right now, there are 1,304 mothballed city Department of Education staffers in the ATR.

The DOE fired the Army veteran, who suffers from PTSD, after he made news as an Occupy Wall Street protester who clashed with cops. He appealed his firing in court and won, paying only a $7,000 fine.

But instead of returning Suker to his old job or a similar one, the DOE banished him to the ATR, where teachers, guidance counselors and others who can’t get rehired move from school to school as substitutes.

At least 200 educators who have been fined or suspended for misconduct or incompetence are currently stuck in the ATR.

The pool was meant for “excessed” teachers who lose jobs when their schools are downsized or closed, but it has become a dumping ground for those the DOE fails to fire in termination hearings.

Suker and others in the ATR say they mostly sit idle, substitute in subjects outside their expertise or do grunt work like lunch duty. The ATR staffers receive full pay and benefits.

- Teacher who earns almost six figures for nothing sues to get back to work,, November 6, 2016.

2. On a frigid December afternoon, Dr. Harold Bornstein was talking about his most famous patient, President-elect Donald Trump.

He hadn’t spoken with Trump since the election, and had no idea whether he would be asked to move his medical practice to Washington. But he also didn’t seem particularly worried about what the stress of the job might mean for the nation’s oldest president — a distinction he hadn’t considered until this reporter pointed it out.

“It never occurred to me that he was the oldest president, not for a second,” Bornstein, 69, said in his Upper East Side office of the 70-year-old Trump. He said that “there’s nothing to share” on a regular basis about a president’s health. “Ronald Reagan had pre-senile dementia. I mean, seriously, did they share that one with you, or did Nancy just cover it up?”

“If something happens to him, then it happens to him,” Bornstein said. “It’s like all the rest of us, no? That’s why we have a vice president and a speaker of the House and a whole line of people. They can just keep dying.”


Prior to last year, Bornstein said, the fact that Trump is his patient was not well-known. Other patients may have seen the photo of Bornstein and Trump that hangs in the waiting room, and one of his former bandmates recalled knowing about his friend’s celebrity patient, but it was never an issue.

Bornstein said he’s only asked the man for one thing — a volunteer position for his son Jeremee with the campaign last summer.

Jeremee worked behind the scenes, starting off with what he described as “grunt work,” like answering the mail, and eventually moving up to working with the campaign’s voter data.

“What a great experience, for an 18-year-old to go to Trump Tower in a presidential year, with this character, of all people,” Bornstein said.

- Donald Trump’s doctor breaks his silence,, December 22, 2016.

3. A new computer-driven robotic drill that can make a type of complex cranial surgery 50 times faster than standard procedures has been developed by scientists including one of Indian origin.

The automated drill, similar to those used in machine auto parts, produces fast, clean and safe cuts, reducing the time the wound is open and the patient is anaesthetised.

This can decrease the incidence of infection, human error, and surgical cost, according to the findings published in the journal Neurosurgical Focus.

To perform complex surgeries, especially cranial surgeries, surgeons typically use hand drills to make intricate openings, adding hours to a procedure.

The automated drill reduces the time for bone removal from two hours using a hand drill to 2.5 minutes.

“It was like doing archaeology. We had to slowly take away the bone to avoid sensitive structures,” said William Couldwell, a neurosurgeon at University of Utah in the US.

“I was interested in developing a low-cost drill that could do a lot of the grunt work to reduce surgeon fatigue,” said AK Balaji, associate professor at University of Utah.

First, the patient is imaged using a CT scan to gather bone data and identify the exact location of sensitive structures, such as nerves and major veins and arteries that must be avoided.

Surgeons use this information to programme the cutting path of the drill.

“The software lets the surgeon choose the optimum path from point A to point B, like Google Maps,” said Balaji.

- Now, robot drill for 50 times faster skull surgery,, May 1, 2017.


About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at:, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.

(作者:张欣 编辑:Julie)


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