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 7 September 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". An article tracking the evolution of the meaning of the term "Slacker" in defamation lawsuits between World War I and 2010, entitled When Slacker Was a Dirty Word: Defamation and Draft Dodging During World War I, was written by Attorney David Kluft for the Trademark and Copyright Law Blog.
Late 20th century onwards
The term achieved renewed popularity following its use in the 1985 film Back to the Future in which James Tolkan's character Mr. Strickland chronically refers to Marty McFly, his father George McFly, Biff Tannen, and a group of teenage delinquents in Part II as "slackers". It gained subsequent exposure from the 1989 Superchunk single "Slack Motherfucker", and the 1991 film Slacker. The television series Rox has been noted for its "depiction of the slacker lifestyle ... of the early '90s".
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 and as a stereotype for members of Generation X. Richard Linklater, director of the aforementioned 1991 film, commented on the term's meaning in a 1995 interview, stating that "I think the cheapest definition [of a slacker] would be someone who's just lazy, hangin' out, doing nothing. I'd like to change that to somebody who's not doing what's expected of them. Somebody who's trying to live an interesting life, doing what they want to do, and if that takes time to find, so be it."
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. Later examples include the films Slackers and Clerks, The 2007 film Slacker Uprising describes an attempt to rouse those under 30 to participate in the 2004 U.S. election.
- Acedia, a state of listlessness
- Goldbricking, cyberslacking
- Goofing off, engaging in idle pastime while obligations are neglected
- Hikikomori, Japanese term for withdrawal from social life
- NEET, "Not in Employment, Education or Training"
- Procrastination, putting off impending tasks to a later time
- Refusal of work
- Sloth, deadly sin
- Work ethic
- "Online Etymology Dictionary, slack (adj.)". Douglas Harper.
- "Dictionary.com slacker (noun)". Editors of dictionary.com.
- 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 21 April 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 13 April 2011. See also: New York Times: "Wheeler Assails Bureau 'Slackers'", September 29, 1943, accessed 21 April 2010; New York Times: "Nazis Round Up Slackers Facing British 8th Army", August 14, 1943, accessed 21 April 2010
- Michael Straight, Trial by Television and Other Encounters (NY: Devon Press, 1979), 76
- David Kluft (30 June 2014). "When "Slacker" Was A Dirty Word: Defamation And Draft Dodging During World War I". Trademarkandcopyrightlawblog.com. Retrieved 7 August 2017.
- Internet Movie Database: "Memorable quotes for Back to the Future (1985)", accessed 6 August 2010
- "slacker". Random House, Inc. 2006.
- Kheiry, Jamal (8 April 1994). "Unstructured (Life) Style Draws Cult Following". LUX (IDS Entertainment Guide).
- Hall, Steve (20 May 1995). "In the realm of the uncensored". The Indianapolis Star.
- Hammer, Steve; Poyser, Jim (18 January 1995). "J&B: Life on the ROX". NUVO Newsweekly.
- ScrIibner, Sara (11 August 2013). "Generation X gets really old: How do slackers have a midlife crisis?". Salon. Retrieved 19 June 2016.
- Petrek, Melissa; Hines, Alan (1993). "Withdrawing in Disgust Is Not the Same as Apathy: Cutting Some Slack with Richard Linklater". Mondo 2000 (9). p. 81.
- Compact Oxford English Dictionary. "slacker".
- New York Times: Tom Lutz, "Doing Nothing", June 4, 2006 accessed 6 August 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 6 August 2010
- The Idler: "About The Idler", accessed 6 August 2010