Adam Dodek of the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Law, wrote about senators earning money outside their Senate jobs. Dodek commented, “Such ‘moonighting’ should either be banned outright or severely restricted” (Globe and Mail, November 12).
Most of us probably never consider positions on boards and stipends for speeches to be a form of moonlighting but, in fact, they are.
To moonlight is defined as, “To work at a job in addition to one’s regular job.” The expression, considered U.S. in origin, is dated to 1957.
Moonlighter, moonlighting, to moonlight, used in this sense, grew from an earlier expression — sundowner, sundowning.
A sundowner is one who times his activities according to the setting sun. The term is used in three separate ways.
The first usage is Australian, arising in 1875 and referring to a traveler who arrives on your doorstep at sundown to make sure he’ll be invited to stay the night. The second application of sundowner is an Americanism from the turn of the 20th century. It’s this usage that is seen as the springboard for moonlighter.
Slang and Euphemisms defines sundowner used this way as, “A hustler who holds down a second job.”
By the 1920s, there was also a third meaning of sundowner. In South Africa, it meant a drink taken at sunset.
Although moonlighting and its related forms are U.S. in origin, there’s an even earlier use of moonlighting which comes from Ireland and has nothing at all to do with second jobs.
In 19th-century Ireland, destitute tenant farmers were systematically being forced off their farms. A mere 800 families, many of them English, not Irish, owned half the land in Ireland. This is a shocking statistic when we consider that Ireland’s population numbered about 5,000,000, and that the vast majority of Irish people lived in rural areas as tenant farmers.
In 1879, an organization called the Land League was formed to campaign for tenant rights. The league was not peopled by quiet negotiators. In its often violent protests against landowners, the league adopted a policy of night raids against the homes of landowners and land agents. This practice was called moonlighting. In addition to moonlighting, the Land League’s tactics included boycotting those owners who ousted tenant farmers. Boycott (1880) is an eponym — a word that originates in a name.
Charles Cunningham Boycott (1832-97), an English land agent in Ireland, ordered eviction of Irish tenants who asked for reduced rents. We must remember that Ireland had not yet recovered from the Great Potato Famine of 1845-1850, so tenant farmers were destitute and hungry.
Land League leader, Charles Stewart Parnell (1846-91) urged the Irish to shun Boycott. No one spoke to him, worked for him, or dealt with him. This tactic proved so successful Boycott was forced to return to England, and boycott entered English vocabulary.
To boycott still means the same thing, but moonlighting, as used today, had a different origin and has never meant violence carried out by night.
That old Irish meaning is no longer used — certainly not in reference to the Senate of Canada.