In 1755, Samuel Johnson created one of the most famous dictionaries in the world. With a team of six helpers, it took just over eight years to collate 40,000 words, which were eventually published in A Dictionary of the English Language. A few years later, in 1806, A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language was printed in America. These early dictionaries highlight even the simplest differences of language and culture; it is said that Samuel Johnson potentially made up some words and added a little humour – his description of oats, for example, poked fun at the Scottish.
Even as early as the 1800s, the spelling of a variety of words was dramatically different, which of course, leaves us in 2019 with all manner of differing spelling incarnations, for differing locales, such as colour v. color, organisation v. organization, or centre v center.
Despite originating hundreds of years ago, this is a tale all too familiar to most of us, particularly when it comes to our work. The global nature of modern businesses and the dissemination of media across the world mean that we can end up a tad confused about spelling, or even the meaning of certain words. Add in a diverse workforce, differing languages, unusual expressions that often adapt and shift over time, and things get even more complicated. That’s before we even touch on the typical office vocabulary, often made up of industry-specific lingo and jargon-like phrases.
We may appear to be speaking the same language, but it’s not hard to misunderstand each other...
Taking a break
In Australia and New Zealand, you’ll often hear the word smoko. This refers to a short tea break during the working day. The term can be traced back as early as 1865 and is believed to have originated from the British Merchant Navy. The majority of us are simply inclined to refer to taking a break, getting some fresh air, or going on a coffee run. However, our Indian colleagues will often say chai pe chalen, which translates as let’s go for tea.
It’s a common belief that everyone in the UK calls their smartphone a mobile, while in the US they say cell phone. However, with the constant evolving market of these devices has come a steadily shifting language to describe them – many of us are calling them smartphones, or more simply, phones, no matter where we’re located.
In some organisations, the concept of not having a fixed desk may be referred to as desk sharing hot desking, flexi desk, desk hoteling, or even nomadic working. There isn’t a right or wrong term to use, particularly as it’s a relatively new concept, but in the UK and India, you’re more likely to hear people say hot desking and desk sharing, while over in the US, you may catch it as desk hoteling or nomadic working. Find out a little more about desk sharing
Video conferencing has seen a huge rise in popularity over the past few years, providing businesses with many benefits, from global collaboration, cost savings and employee productivity. Across the globe, we all call it something slightly different, but in this case, the meaning is always translatable. Terms commonly used include video call, video conferencing, VC, or even the product name, used as a verb – how many times have you said something like “I’m just going to Skype the New York office”?
The usage of meeting rooms and its synonyms as descriptors can be a little more nuanced than some of the other examples cited here. In the UK, we refer to smaller rooms as meeting rooms, whereas larger spaces are considered conference rooms. In the US, all meeting rooms are conference rooms, no matter the size.
In the context of a working environment, lift and elevator can be used interchangeably, although some countries prefer one or the other, and Americans pretty much only use elevator.
Pulling a sickie
There are countless terms, many of them colloquial, for taking an unscheduled day off work – pulling a sickie, having a duvet day or playing hooky are all familiar to most of us, though we probably use one far more often than the others.
Prepone is a word that we might not recognise on first glance, but we can probably work out its meaning, which is the direct opposite of postpone. The usage of this term is widespread in India, its history spanning over a hundred years.
Brits call them trousers, as do our Indian friends, Aussie, Kiwi and American pals all refer to them as pants, which can baffle some, since we generally use the word pants to mean underpants! We expect you probably won’t be discussing your underwear often at work, after all!
The ground floor
We’re fairly certain the complex global rules that surround the naming of the ground floor have been responsible for more than a few missed appointments! In both India and the US, the ground floor is the first floor, although Americans may also use the word lobby. However, in the UK, the first floor is always the floor above ground level, and in Australia, you’d likely be looking for reception, since the term lobby is only ever relevant if you’re in a hotel.
Did you know that in the English language alone, there are over 15 different ways to greet someone? The preferred or most-used greeting varies from country to country, but there are also more colloquial or slang terms used in less formal settings, so you might be unlikely to hear them in the workplace – think alright, yo and ‘sup.