According to different sources, the term slacker dates back to about 1790 or 1898. It gained some recognition during the British Gezira Scheme in the early to mid 20th century, when Sudanese labourers protested their relative powerlessness by working lethargically, a form of protest known as "slacking."
In the United States during World War I, the word "slacker" was commonly used to describe someone who was not participating in the war effort, especially someone who avoided military service, an equivalent of the later term draft dodger. Attempts to track down such evaders were called slacker raids. During World War I, U.S. Senator Miles Poindexter discussed whether inquiries "to separate the cowards and the slackers from those who had not violated the draft" had been managed properly. A San Francisco Chronicle headline on September 7, 1918, read: "Slacker is Doused in Barrel of Paint." The term was also used during the World War II period in the United States. In 1940, Time quoted the U.S. Army on managing the military draft efficiently: "War is not going to wait while every slacker resorts to endless appeals."
The shift in the use of "slacker" from its draft-related meaning to a more general sense of the avoidance of work is unclear. In April 1948, The New Republic referred to "resentment against taxes levied to aid slackers."
Late 20th century
The term achieved renewed popularity following its use in the 1985 film Back to the Future in which James Tolkan's character Mr. Strickland says "You've got a real attitude problem, McFly. You're a slacker! You remind me of your father when he went here. He was a slacker, too." It gained subsequent exposure from the 1989 Superchunk single "Slack Motherfucker," and in the 1991 film Slacker. Slacker became widely used in the 1990s to refer to a subset of apathetic youth who were cynical and uninterested in political or social causes.
The term has connotations of "apathy and aimlessness." It is also used to refer to an educated person who avoids work, possibly as an anti-materialist stance, who may be viewed as an underachiever.
"Slackers" have been the subject of many films and television shows, particularly comedies. Notable examples include the films Slacker, Slackers, Clerks, The Big Lebowski, Bottle Rocket, Office Space, Back to the Future, Good Burger, 101 Reykjavik, the Hate-comics by Peter Bagge, as well as the television shows Beavis & Butt-head, Regular Show, and Workaholics.
The movie Slacker Uprising described an attempt to rouse those under 30 to participate in the 2004 U.S. election. The Idler, a British magazine founded in 1993, represents an alternative to contemporary society's work ethic and aims "to return dignity to the art of loafing."
In the Regular Show, a duo consisting of a blue jay named Mordecai and a raccoon called Rigby avoid doing work at all costs. Their boss, an angry gumball machine known as Benson usually calls them "worthless, lazy slackers".
- NEET, "Not currently engaged in Employment, Education or Training"
- Refusal of work
- Work ethic
- Goofing off
- "Online Etymology Dictionary, slack (adj.)". Douglas Harper.
- V. Bernal, "Colonial Moral Economy and the Discipline of Development: The Gezira Scheme and 'Modern' Sudan," Cultural Anthropology, Vol. 12, 1997, 447–79
- Robert Sydney Smith, Warfare & Diplomacy in Pre-Colonial West Africa (University of Wisconsin Press 1989), 54-62
- New York Times: "Take Slackers into Army," September 10, 1918, accessed April 21, 2010
- Christopher Cappozolla, Uncle Sam Wants You: World War I and the Making of the Modern American Citizen (NY: Oxford University Press, 2008), 43-53, quotes 50, 229n
- For one of many uses of the word during the trial of Sacco and Vanzetti, see G. Louis Joughin and Edmund M. Morgan, The Legacy of Sacco and Vanzetti (NY: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1948), 119
- TIME: "The Draft: How it Works," September 23, 1940, accessed April 13, 2011. See also: New York Times: "Wheeler Assails Bureau 'Slackers'," September 29, 1943, accessed April 21, 2010; New York Times: "Nazis Round Up Slackers Facing British 8th Army," August 14, 1943, accessed April 21, 2010
- Michael Straight, Trial by Television and Other Encounters (NY: Devon Press, 1979), 76
- Internet Movie Database: "Memorable quotes for Back to the Future (1985)", accessed August 6, 2010
- "slacker". Random House, Inc. 2006.
- Compact Oxford English Dictionary. "slacker".
- New York Times: Tom Lutz, "Doing Nothing," June 4, 2006 accessed August 6, 2010, and excerpt Tom Lutz, Doing Nothing: A History of Loafers, Loungers, Slackers, and Bums in America (NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006)
- Internet Movie Database: "Slacker Uprising (2007)", accessed August 6, 2010
- The Idler: "About The Idler", accessed August 6, 2010