Collaborator /kəˈlabəreɪtə/ (noun) – an associate or assistant in labour, particularly literary or scientific
Over time, the meaning of many words changes. In most cases the changes take effect very slowly, to the point that we barely notice it. Some words change meaning almost completely; others only slightly. Who would have known that the word ‘silly’ used to refer to things that are blessed or worthy? And that ‘nice’ once meant silly!
The idea is to be less pedantic about semantics and more concerned with the way we actually apply the words we use. For most people the word ‘collaboration’ refers to the act of working together. And to that extent, is does not really mean much at all. One way or another, people work together anyway. A collaborator is not what most people would choose to describe themselves as. It simply does not indicate much about the person. Almost a century ago ‘collaborator’ had a more specific meaning, as described in an old Chamber’s dictionary I found on my bookshelf, where it states that a collaborator is ‘an associate or assistant in labour, particularly literary or scientific’. During the Second World War, the term collaborator took on another specific meaning; referring to someone who worked with the enemy.
The way in which we use words can be major advantage or obstacle in connecting with others. Explicit meanings aside, the implicit meaning is often not difficult to understand. I note that many younger generation workers seem to view the word ‘collaboration’ in a more positive way than their older generation counterparts who managed to build careers without ever being overtly collaborative. Being labelled a collaborator may mean different things in different industries. A freelance artist, film maker or designer may appreciate the label as a badge of honour. An insurance salesperson may not. The context of the work is a factor, not necessarily the style of person.
Being able to collaborate, and to demonstrate that skill, is increasingly what employers or business partners will look for in a candidate. Admittedly, career advisers may not be rushing to advise their clients that branding oneself a collaborator can make a critical point of difference, and thereby lead to a good job or gig. That, though, is changing. The rate of projects resulting from collaborative efforts is bound to change people’s mindset. And with that, the pride in declaring oneself a collaborator will be more than semantics.