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Downshifters are the antithesis of the acquisitive yuppies of the eighties. They believe that time is more important than money and that it is better to work less and be happy and fulfilled than be well paid for struggling with jobs that are stressful or unrewarding. Though it was heralded as “a new Renaissance philosophy” by the Trends Research Institute in New York, which is credited with inventing the term in 1994, the idea is far from new and, for example, echoes the Gandhian “voluntary simplicity” of the 1930s. To downshift means to cut out unnecessary expenditure and cultivate a simpler lifestyle with time to do more of the things one wants to do, but not go to the extremes of dropping out of society or attempting self-sufficiency. Some who have gone this route say that they have been able to make savings because a substantial proportion of their income was spent coping with the emotional and social consequences of overachievement and maintaining a consumerist lifestyle. Ironically, it seems a requirement for remodelling one’s life is financial independence; significantly, downshifting has been taken up principally by middle-class professionals who can afford the loss of income. The word is a figurative use of a term originally applied to changing gear in a car and which dates from the 1950s.

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 7 Jun. 1997

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
This page URL: http://www.worldwidewords.org/turnsofphrase/tp-dow1.htm
Last modified: 7 June 1997.