Are you a Luddite?

2 Feb 2018

Are you a Luddite?

An extract from the article by Tom de Castella
BBC News Magazine

They burned down mills in the name of a mythical character called Ludd. So 200 years after their most famous battle, why are we still peppering conversations with the word “Luddite”?

It’s a popular retort to someone struggling to operate their new smartphone or refusing to buy the latest gizmo: “You’re such a Luddite.”

There is another word for it – technophobe – but it doesn’t convey the same sense of irrational hostility to the modern world. So where did “Luddite” come from?

In the midst of the British industrial revolution, skilled textile workers feared for their jobs. An uprising began in 1811 when Nottinghamshire weavers attacked the new automated looms that were replacing them.

The workers took inspiration from a fabled General Ludd or King Ludd living in Sherwood Forest. His fanciful name may have come from a young Leicestershire weaver called Ned Lud, who in the late 18th Century was rumoured to have smashed two stocking frames.

The machine breaking spread to West Yorkshire wool workers and Lancashire cotton mills, in what the historian Eric Hobsbawm called “collective bargaining by riot”. Machinery was wrecked, mills were burned down and the Luddites fought pitched battles with the British Army.

The response of the state was brutal. Machine breaking became a capital offence. At trials in York, 17 Luddites were hanged and another 25 transported to Australia, while in Lancaster eight were hanged and 38 sentenced to transportation.

One of the most serious incidents happened two hundred years ago in April. About 150 Luddites armed with hammers and axes attacked Cartwright’s mill in Rawfolds, near Huddersfield. The authorities shot two of them dead and the attack was eventually repelled.


For Katrina Navickas, author of  Loyalism & Radicalism in Lancashire 1798-1815, they were working class heroes. Trade unions had been banned in 1800 and here was another way for workers to defend their livelihoods.

There’s no doubt that the Luddites have been romanticised, says Dr Emma Griffin, author of A Short History of the British Industrial Revolution. They are thought of as the first workers to destroy their machinery, yet this had been going on for years. What marks the Luddites out was that they were better organised than their predecessors, she says.

But both historians agree that today’s use of “Luddite” is wrong. To use the term for someone who ignores Twitter or refuses to move from analogue to digital TV is a complete misrepresentation, says Griffin.

“We use it for people who are hostile to technology, who don’t want to get a mobile phone,” she says. “But what concerned the Luddites about technology was that it was going to cut their wages.”

So how did the word evolve so much?

The first recorded usage of Luddite in the Oxford English Dictionary is for 1811. But its catch-all anti-tech meaning appears to be a relatively recent phenomenon.

Today with digital technology enlivening or intruding on – depending on your view – day-to-day experiences, the term is more popular than ever. People nostalgic for a time before mobile ringtones had colonised train carriages may class themselves as Luddites.

But whereas once it was cool for kids not to understand science, the tide now appears to be with the nerds and geeks. Luddite may sometimes be a fond term but its adherents are on the losing side.


So however grating it is to hear an iPhone refusenik invoking the weavers of Nottinghamshire, the term “Luddite” remains a popular part of everyday speech.

The irony is that as the speed of technological change accelerates, the term “Luddite” has never been more necessary.


Before doing the exercises, learn new words and phrases:


  1. Give the equivalents for:

штуковина;    возражение, резкий ответ;    передавать;    необоснованная враждебность;    в разгар;    бояться за;    восстание;    ткацкий станок;    легендарный;      затейливый;  чулочновязальная машина;    коллективные переговоры;    тщательно подготовленное сражение;  преступление, караемое смертной казнью;    судебный процесс;     застрелить насмерть;  преодолеть, ликвидировать;     профсоюз;     средства к существованию;     без сомнения;  выделять;     предшественник;     почасовая зарплата за неделю;      относительно недавнее явление;     бесцеремонно вмешиваться, вторгаться;     делать интереснее, оживлять; вагон поезда;     ботан;     умник, зануда;     нежное название;    приверженец, сторонник;     на проигравшей стороне;     отказник;   резкий, неприятный, раздражающий;    сдобрить разговор.


  1. Paraphrase the following sentences using the essential vocabulary from the text:

Textile workers were worried about their weekly money.

The fight started right in the middle of the party.

A revolt began in 1756, when no one expected, and the reason for that was the fact that people wanted their source of income to be safe.

She has long been a supporter of the Communist Party.

I simply love different electronic gadgets!

The new President’s foreign policy is very similar to that of the former one.

The meeting was disrupted by a group of protesters who shouted and threw fruit at the speaker.


  1. Translate the following sentences from Russian:


  1. Ты хочешь, чтобы я рассказала тебе историю о легендарном Робин Гуде?
  2. Так неприятно слушать этот ужасный акцент!
  3. Профсоюз начал коллективные переговоры по поводу еженедельных зарплат рабочих.
  4. Это что еще за штуковина и как она работает?
  5. Без всякого сомнения это была она. Я видел, как она садилась в вагон поезда.
  6. Он просто обожает сдабривать разговоры затейливыми словечками.
  7. Кто был предшественником Обамы?
  8. Онлайн торговля относительно недавнее явление, но она становится все более и более популярной.
  9. В некоторых штатах США убийство до сих пор является преступлением, за которое карают смертной казнью. Лично я, это не поддерживаю (не являюсь сторонником этого).
  10. Если налоги поднимут, народ останется без средств к существованию.


  1. Answer the questions:


  1. What do we call people who are technophobes?
  2. What is the difference between these synonyms: technophobe and Luddite?
  3. Where did the term “Luddite” come from?
  4. Where and when did the uprising of textile workers begin?
  5. How were the Luddites punished?
  6. Where did the most serious incident of uprising take place?
  7. How many people were shot dead during that incident?
  8. Why did the Luddites destroy machinery?
  9. When and where was the term “Luddite” used for the first time?
  10. How do we use this term now?

Click here to download this article with the exercises as a PDF document.

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