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OnWords: 'Office' No Longer Needs An Office

Office Space
20th Century Fox

Purists can’t stand the use of the word “office” as a verb, as in a major NPR underwriter using the tag line “the smart way to office.”

On one hand, I don’t blame them. This sort of what we might call “verbing” stinks of all the absurdities promoted by management culture with its disdain for, if not contempt of, regular language and plain speech. But looking a bit deeper, “to office” hints at the way work has changed over the past 50 years.

Much has already been said about America’s shift from blue collar work to white collar and service sector assignments. This shift has coincided with—and perhaps been lubricated by—a multiplicity of new job titles and a plethora of new technologies with which to do office work. With most all office workers now having access to word processors and spreadsheets, shared files and data analysis software, old, but more descriptive, terms like “secretary” and “clerk” no longer make as much sense. We’re all doing some of the things that those folks once did.

The office situation is made more complex by wireless connectivity, which allows us to do office stuff pretty much anywhere we please. And while we have very good reasons for wanting to keep designated work areas around, an office is no longer necessary for most basic job functions to get done. Therefore, we need a term to describe doing that stuff outside of a traditional, physical office setting. So as much as we may bristle at the verbing of the word “office,” for the way we do office work now, it makes a certain obnoxious sort of sense.

Lael Ewy is a co-founder and editor of EastWesterly Review, a journal of literary satire at www.postmodernvillage.com, and a writer whose work has appeared in such venues as Denver Quarterly and New Orleans Review and has been anthologized in Troubles Swapped for Something Fresh.