Why do “X associate” and “associate X” have such different meanings?

This answer describes the American English term “stock associate”, as meaning a relatively low paid store worker who fills shelves.

By contrast, high status work seems to have the job descriptor after the word “associate” (“associate director”, “associate justice”, “associate” member of some professional body).

Is it always/usually the case, that “associate” after the rest of the job title would have a different significance to “associate” before the rest of the job title? If so, why?


The order “associate X” uses “associate” as an adjective. This form is used when the job is a variation of X. For instance, associate justice and chief justice are types of justices, and associate producer is a lower-ranked producer. The relevant definitions from Merriam-Webster are

  1. closely connected (as in function or office) with another : sharing in responsibility or authority
  2. having secondary or subordinate status

The order “X associate” uses “associate” as a noun, and X modifies it. This is used when the job relates to X. A stock associate works with stock, a sales associate makes sales. The relevant definitions are:

  2. a. an entry-level member (as of a learned society, professional organization, or profession)

In many cases, the “X associate” terms have arisen as euphemisms that make these jobs sound more important. Stock associates used to be called stock boys, sales associates were sales clerks or salesmen/saleswomen.

Source : Link , Question Author : Stilez , Answer Author : Barmar

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