by Jody Nagel
Professional: adj., adv., n.
As in the word "Professor," the root of "professional" is the verb "to profess," or to state something which the speaker views as unequivocally true. (1) A "professional," traditionally then, was a person who spoke of things, or performed tasks, of which that person was a master, an expert, or an authority. The word is rarely used to denote expertise nowadays, however. (2) Later, the word "professional" took on the added notion of a person who was paid for their work. Centuries ago it was logical to pay only experts and masters for their work; thus, there was no substantial difference, at first, when the word "professional" took on a financial tone. But still later, the expertise requirement was dropped, and now anyone who is paid, regardless of how incompetent, is apparently to be regarded as a "professional." The word is still somewhat used nowadays to signify payment-for-services-rendered; however, since the maturity of modern marketing techniques, the word "professional" has been transformed completely. (3) Whereas "a professional" (used as a noun) was, and is, a common use of the word, it is also equally used as an adjective or an adverb (i.e., a professional musician, to act professionally). Especially as an adverb, the newest usage of the word "professional" has taken on the connotation of an attitude towards behavioral and personality traits. To "act professionally" essentially means to wear a slightly plastic smile, to speak with a certain detached tone of voice, to maintain psychological separation from the emotional needs of customers, to avoid expressing one's own emotions, and, in general, to deny the authenticity of genuine human interaction. While all masters of all trades in the past engaged simultaneously, and without apology, their intellectual and emotional aspects of their minds, apparently a modern "professional" is expected to dissect out the emotional (and some would say the truly "human") component of social affairs. Ethically speaking then, the modern use of "professional" is essentially a sophisticated form of lying, and a "professional" is therefore a liar. It is interesting to note how the word has degenerated full circle from a position of maximal truth, to that of maximal falsehood.
[ from "Word Origins and Real Meanings" (1998) ]
Dr. Jody Nagel
September 8, 1998