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I'd like to know if "shiftlessness" and "shiftless" have the same meaning in the...

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coutelle | Valedictorian

Posted April 22, 2013 at 1:17 PM via web

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I'd like to know if "shiftlessness" and "shiftless" have the same meaning in the following excerpts from The Great Gatsby?

a) Chapter 2:  “I told that boy about the ice.” Myrtle raised her eyebrows in despair at the shiftlessness of the lower orders. “These people! You have to keep after them all the time.”

b) Chapter 6:  I suppose he’d had the name ready for a long time, even then. His parents were shiftless and unsuccessful farm people—his imagination had never really accepted them as his parents at all.

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William Delaney | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

Posted April 22, 2013 at 6:26 PM (Answer #1)

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"Shiftless" is not a word one hears often anymore, if ever. It always has the same meaning. My dictionary defines it as "Lacking ambition or purpose;lazy." But it always seems to suggest an inability to cope with life, a lack of resourcefulness and adaptability. "Shiftless," of course is an adjective and "shiftlessness" is a noun. I associate the use of the word with country people and its use being limited to certain regions such as the South. Perhaps the reason it is so seldom heard anymore is that small farmers are leaving the land and small country towns are dying, while the cities are absorbing more and more of the total American population.

Some good examples of shiftless characters are to be found in the novels of William Faulkner and even more especially in Tobacco Road by Erskine Caldwell.

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