A lot of juggling metaphors in the air

But what are people juggling?

[Updated with a look at phrase origins at the end.]

Judging by the prevalence of terms in the Google Ngrams database of books, since 1970 people have begun juggling their families, their work-and-family, their responsibilities, and even their children themselves.

Maybe all the metaphorical juggling has contributed to the rise of real-life juggling, although based on the distribution of juggling conventions this is a bigger deal in Europe than the U.S. In American English, “juggling balls” is thriving, but since the mid-1980s its growth can’t keep up with “juggling work.”

And, judging by who’s juggling in a Google image search for “juggling work,” the clip-artists of today, at least, think it’s women who are driving the trend about 2-to-1:

Origins update:

The Oxford English Dictionary doesn’t have a clear dating of this kind of use for juggling before 1985, “They have to know how to do many things—from juggling the futures market to overhauling a tractor or curing viral scours.”

The first instance of “juggling work” I get in the Lexis database is from the New York Times, Sep. 23, 1980:

She conceded that juggling her work and family is not always easy. ”You feel split all the time,” said Mrs. Massie, taking a cigarette. ”Sometimes the family responsibility collides with the need to be alone, and with the selfishness that is necessary for any creative effort.”

The American Sociological Review has a reference to “juggling work assignments” in a 1956 book review on industrial practices, which isn’t quite the sense of juggling tasks within a single life. By 1983 Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies has this:

The impossible pressures of juggling work and family responsibilities have led some Soviet women to reject the ideology of emancipation altogether.

And by then we’re off and juggling.

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