The Oxford English Dictionary Wants Your Work-Related Slang

You can submit entries through an online form or tweet it with the hashtag #wordsatwork

Is this dog smarter than its owner, or "DSTO"? Pixabay

Hopefully, you’ve never had a veterinarian say “DSTO” in your presence. While it might sound like a harmless reference to a drug name or perhaps some obscure ailment, it’s actually short for something a little crueler—that the dog is smarter than its owner.

DSTO is just one of a multitude of niche work-related slang that's cropped up over the years. Some terms are on par with the pet owner-shaming phrase (“gomer,” for instance, is a healthcare acronym for “Get Out of My Emergency Room” and is used in context with difficult patients), while others are more benign (see “shelf talker,” a printed card or sign affixed to a store shelf in hopes of drawing shoppers’ attention to a particular item).

Now, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) is turning to the public for help cataloging such workplace jargon. An appeal posted to the OED website states, “The OED already includes many terms from all kinds of trades and professions, but there are many more that will not yet have come to our attention–and that’s where we’re asking for your help.”

The statement continues, “Whether you and your colleagues use terms that are specific to your workplace, or you’ve heard an expression and not understood it, we would love to hear about it.”

Interested parties can submit phrases for consideration through an online form, or via Twitter with the hashtag #wordsatwork. Burgeoning lexicographers are encouraged to detail the word or phrase in question, as well as its meaning and the trade or profession in which it is used.

So far, responses shared on Twitter range from surprisingly lighthearted—one thespian notes that in the theatre, “banana” can serve as a verb meaning “walk [across the stage] in a curve, not a straight line”—to wonderfully alliterative—in costuming, another user points out, “woogy” means a difficult-to-work-with fabric, while “wonky” refers to a stitch that is off-center or crooked.

Other highlights include “weed,” a term used in libraries to describe the removal of “damaged, superseded or [unpopular] items” from the collection, and “SME,” an acronym for “subject matter expert” that is used by instructional designers referencing an individual extremely well-versed in a certain field of study. (Delightfully, SME is reportedly pronounced like Mr. Smee, that bumbling pirate sidekick in Disney’s Peter Pan.)

Currently, Alison Flood reports for the Guardian, the OED features a number of work-related terms, including “dob and dab,” or the “process of dry lining a wall (or perhaps sticking plasterboard to it)”; “blitz” or “shift,” which is librarian speak for “to move along/tidy up the books on a shelf”; and “behind the stick,” meaning working behind the bar at a pub.

“When we use words every day at work, it’s difficult to imagine that their meanings might not be quite so obvious to other people,” OED senior editor Fiona McPherson tells Flood. “However, with such a vast array of professions and industries, it’s not surprising that certain terms from your own workplace may lead to looks of bemusement from those not in the know. Whether you have baffled others or been baffled, let us know about these words and terms from your working life.”

The OED's call for workplace jargon is the latest in a long history of similar public appeals: Most recently, the organization has issued appeals for so-called "youth words" (examples cited in the announcement include "dank," "lit" and "GOAT"), "hobby words" and regional-specific phrases.

As the OED notes on its blog, responses have been both elucidating and surprising. Perhaps most intriguing is the acronym "UFO," which no longer stands for "Unidentified Flying Object," but rather "Unfinished Object" (or at least it does in the crafts, knitting and needlework world).

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