It's hard to talk about life as a temporary worker unless you can speak the language of temps. Paul Fairchild and his colleagues at Temp 24-7, a hilarious Web site for free agents, chart the vocabulary of this fast-growing subeconomy in a feature called "Temp Term of the Week." Here are some of our favorite terms, along with edited descriptions of what they refer to:
An occupational condition that results from always using the least comfortable chair in the office. A common medical hazard for the veteran temp.
Example: "I've got a wicked case of office ass. I can't feel my legs!"
Temps with a severe cold or flu who show up for work because they don't get sick pay. Identifiable by luminous noses, desks covered with tissues, and abysmally low productivity.
The unsightly drones who by nature prefer life in a back room but who surface occasionally to deliver mail. Mailbots and temps are equal in social status and thus share an unspoken bond of respect.
The temp's representative at the staffing agency.
A standard-issue tool, rather like a temp's Swiss Army knife. Since temps often don't sit at the same desk every day, they must keep their work on a disk that they carry around with them.
Disposable temps inserted into an office to absorb excess work, only to be casually discarded when the busy period of work ebbs.
A version of this article appeared in the September 1998 issue of Fast Company magazine.