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May I have a word: Shirking work by doing any other worthwhile thing

Shworking it. Not working it.

Cooking, reading, cleaning the house, tending to houseplants — anything but actual work will do.Adobe

Here’s reader Michael Katz, of Hopkinton, weighing in on the challenge I posed last time: “I thought we already had a word to describe an activity that is ‘productive or creative but is actually something you are doing to procrastinate from doing a more onerous, necessary task.’ It’s college.”

Monica Brady-Myerov, of Brookline, told me that her husband, too, thinks the word I was seeking already exists. “According to him,” she reported, “the act of doing something creative to avoid some more onerous tasks is Wordle.”

Karen Arnold, of Needham, shared a useful tip for writers. She wrote: “I teach my BC doctoral students the value of ‘organizational fritters.’ When you’re low on courage to write, I tell them, clean up your citations, format your tables, or sort your electronic files. Organizational fritters are probably a subcategory of what my husband, Jeff, terms proslackinating. A contender?”


For sure, but . . . In fact, I got a zillion variations on and subcategories of procrastinating, including procrafstinating, procrastasking, procrastcreating, procrastibaking, procrasticooking, procrasticrafting, procrastigardening, procrastiknitting, procrastimaking, procrastinacting, procrastitasking, producticrastinating, productivenating, and protaskinating. If I namecheck the coiners of all these, I’ll bore everyone else — but you neologizers know who you are.

Two readers offered up procrasticleaning: Phyllis Wilner, of Lexington, and Jean Mattoon, of Las Cruces, N.M. The term, Jean said, “most often pops up these days in ADHD-related forums,” adding, “I’m happy to represent the ADHD community in gifting this word to the neurotypical world.”

Dan Fennelly, of Scituate, wrote: “My suggestion is very simple: tisk.”

And Chris Duval, of West Newton, was one of several readers who observed in passing that this challenge had something meta, or self-referential, about it. He wrote: “I feel like I might be something of an expert in this area, so I propose the word shwork, a mashup of shirk and work. It’s short, to the point, and fun to say! In fact, I am shworking right now writing this email to you.”


Chris, I like that. I like it a lot. Not only does it have the pluses you mention, but it’s all-purpose, non-tongue-twisting, and intuitive. With pleasure I award you bragging rights. Well done!

Next up is this challenge: If you were browsing the shelves of your local library and came across a 1978 book with the title “Pulling Your Own Strings” on its spine, would it occur to you to snap a photo of the book, come up with a facetious subtitle — as it happened, “The Puppet’s Guide to Independent Living” — and post the mash-up on social media?

Me neither, but the anonymous authors of a book named “Spine Tinglers” did just that. (They chose to go unnamed in order to escape the wrath of authors of the books they messed with.) They did the same for thousands of other titles in their city’s libraries too, acquired a sizable following on their Instagram account (now inactive), compiled their favorites into a book in 2018, and gave it the subtitle “The Hilarious Book of Fake Subtitles” — which, as far as I know, no one has similarly swapped out.

May I invite you to follow their lead? Have a look at the volumes on your bookshelves, at the library, or in your school or office, and when a title strikes you as promising, take a photo of the spine, add your subtitle (it doesn’t matter whether the book already has one), and send me the result.


If you’re no more tech-savvy than I am, you may skip the photo and just send me the title and your subtitle.

For inspiration, here are a few more examples from “Spine Tinglers”: “The Zone of Interest: A Peppy, Easy-to-Grasp Guide to Why You’ll Be in Debt Forever”; “Men, Women and Guns: Only Two Can Survive”; and “Fire From Heaven: My Dog’s Account of July 4th.”

Send me what you come up with at Barbara.Wallraff@globe.com by noon on Friday, Dec. 9, and kindly include where you live. Responses may be edited.

Barbara Wallraff is a writer and editor in Cambridge.