If I may put on my grumpy old man hat for a moment we need to have a talk. I appreciate the ever evolving nature of our language as much as anyone. In fact I have written frequently about language including not one but two articles specifically on the topic of precision in language, and why it is so important. In those articles I go out of my way to note that language is not some static affair and that meanings of words do shift and change with time. I understand that the word hustle has somewhat recently come to be applied to just about anything someone does to make money. On the one hand I can appreciate the association of the word with work. It suggest an aggressive attitude, a let’s get it done quickly approach, etc. On the other hand it brings a lot of negative baggage along for the ride. First, it suggests a lack of seriousness about whatever endeavor it is being applied to describe. A hustle is more like a hobby that makes money then a job. Thus, like a hobby, one’s dedication to it might change in intensity over time. It is transient or temporary. As an example, just like collecting baseball cards used to be your passionate hobby, writing is your hobby now, but who knows what it might be next week? Why would I want to pay someone money if that is the attitude they take toward the job I am paying them to do? Even if writing really is a hobby for you, and you don’t really take it all that seriously, yet you have the temerity to expect people to pay you for it, why rub it in their face? A great question I surely would have no idea about.
If it were only the seriousness thing I would not have a real issue with the word. However there is a much bigger problem, and that has to do with how it has been used in slang and informally in the past and still today. These informal meanings of hustle as a fraud or swindle, or a way to earn one’s living by illicit or unethical means, are still very prevalent and include some ugly racial undertones. In my mind, and I am sure I am not alone, a hustle is a scam or con first and any other meaning it might have comes a distant second. The association of the word with blackploitation films of the 1970s is also unhelpful. And I know, so don’t bother blasting me in the comments with “but its how we use the word today that gives it its meaning, and we can take back the word from its ugly past, and make it a positive thing now….etc, etc.” While I am sure Wittgenstein would be grateful for your support of his philosophical position on language and meaning in use, for the word hustle I think it is too late for that. It’s negative connotations are set in stone and are likely stuck there for a very long time if not forever at this point. With all the negatives it has going for it, is the word really so great to be worth it? Just stop using it. Please.