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Home office or work from home?

Thoughts on working from home and the term ‘home office’, by HE Translations director Herbert Eppel

Like many language service providers, I have been working from home for many years now, as described in the Leicester Mercury article from 2009 under the heading “Home work – we love it!”, which is available for your delectation here. Although the article didn’t foresee corona, it could perhaps be regarded as rather prescient in that it described a growing trend towards home working and envisaged a future in which this could become the norm, rather than an exception.

During the corona pandemic the term Homeoffice (alternative spelling: Home-Office) found its way into the standard German Duden dictionary – see here. Intriguingly, and perhaps mildly entertainingly, when Germans say or write Homeoffice, more often than not they refer to the activity (e.g. “ich mache Homeoffice“, literally translated as “I am doing home office” but indicating “I am presently working from home”), rather than a physical space.

In any case, the question of whether ‘home office’ is also used in English was recently debated in translator circles. The answer isn’t as clear-cut as one might think, and not just because of the potential confusion with the UK Government’s Home Office, which in a strict technical sense is the government department responsible for security and immigration within the country, analogous to an interior ministry or Innenministerium in German. The controversial activities of the UK Home Office in pursuing “hostile environment” actions against non-UK citizens mean that most will want to avoid ambiguous language that might suggest they have any connection to such an entity. Saying one is in The Home Office at present might worryingly suggest entanglement in labyrinthine bureaucracy and queues, or even the threat of impending expulsion.

In any case, I for one have no hesitation in referring to the dedicated room from which I run my translation business as my home office. And this is the point: someone who only works from home occasionally or perhaps temporarily, e.g. during the pandemic, may not have a dedicated room in their home, in which case they couldn’t really refer to their home office. It seems perfectly logical that those who do have such a room refer to it as their home office, and there can be little doubt that the term will rapidly become more common, as evidenced by the fact that it is already included in the Cambridge Dictionary, for example. If the term does indeed take hold in English, in future will people say they are homeofficing or just use the shorthand acronym WFH? And will a mistranslation somewhere say “I am conducting an interior ministry”, adding a religious dimension to mundane domestic labour?

Person staring into distance on beach

Naming that indescribable ache to be somewhere else: Fernweh in days of lockdown

magical misty seascape

Dreaming of faraway lands

Many of those locked away in long days of lockdown feel an indescribable ache to be someplace else, not just anywhere, somewhere nice and new and interesting. The German language already has a precise word for that aching far away feeling, and the German word has lately been been filling a void in the English language: Fernweh.

Fernweh isn’t just a case of “Get me out of here” or “Beam me up Scotty” or a desire to be nowhere at all, it’s a longing for faraway places that erase the ache and relieve the longing, and so the word is used in German travel adverts and even printed prominently on brands of activity clothing.Continue reading full article…

Glass of mulled wine and pinecones

Glugging glue wine as Christmas comes unstuck

Glass of mulled wine and pineconesDon’t sniff, but are spicy Brits glugging glue this Christmas? Bountiful bottles of Glühwein selling from UK supermarket shelves might suggest people who come unstuck in extended isolation are reaching for a remedy or trying to put a broken Christmas back together, but in fact this import is the traditional German equivalent of mulled wine, also known as spiced wine, and has no known connection to glue. A humble red wine heated with cinnamon, cloves, allspice, nutmeg and even raisins is a widespread winter drink in Europe and nicely disposes of otherwise undrinkable dregs of cheap wine. Although traditionally this potion goes by different names in different lands, now in English it is flirting with a hot new name from abroad, and we are provisionally adding it to our growing list of German words used in English.
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Hamster with hazelnuts

Happy hamsters squirrel away supermarket stocks

Hamster with hazelnutsHamsters have been emptying shop shelves across Germany and now seem set to cross borders as other countries take up the telling term Hamsterkauf. Wise advice to stock up on essentials before being confined to home by an anti-coronavirus diktat, combined with an angst attack in the face of a pandemic, has seen runs on toilet paper, pasta, flour and hand gel – snatching away all available wares. The German language term for this buying more than you need is Hamsterkauf, meaning literally hamster buying, or buying like a hamster. The tiny hamster with its puffy cheeks full of nuts is a lovable symbol for sensibly storing what you need for later, like its bigger cousin the squirrel, but neither actually pay for what they accumulate and have never been seen panic buying.Continue reading full article…

Three unicorns running

Unicorn Bets Set in Race to Carbon Zero

Are capitalists hoping to harness unicorns to lead the charge to a zero carbon economy? Some experts think so and are calling for investment in unicorn incubation programmes with the promise of great returns. Recently the unicorn has lent its name to the elite group of billion dollar startup tech firms, and now looks set to sire a whole new breed of firms focused on facilitating low carbon living. As icecaps melt, sea levels rise, and global overheating threatens human extinction, can a magical horse with a pointed hat save the human race? Some hard-headed technologists are advocating this, so is it time we understood this beautiful beast and its future a bit better?

Three unicorns runningThe unicorn has captured the human imagination since the earliest days of India, appears in the Christian Bible, in medieval bestiary books illustrating beasts of every alleged kind, and has often been harnessed as a symbol. Typically understood to be a forest-dwelling white horse with a single, spiralling and pointed horn sticking out of its forehead, it might initially have been the ancients’ remote misinterpretation of actual one-horned animals such as the ibex or rhinoceros, or of profile representations of cattle, but it developed a mythical presence in the Middle Ages in Europe which lives on to this day.

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Meerkat family speaking meerkat language

Simples – how a Russian rat hacked the OED with western ads

Or how to buy a place in the good book – a report from TastyWebDesign.com

Author holding book in English
The Oxford English Dictionary has recognised a new phrase imported into English from English by an animated cartoon character who appears to be a wealthy Russian rodent trading in insurance protection, though a meerkat is in reality a mongoose and eats rodents.  Simples? What does that mean? You might ask that if you don’t watch UK commercial television, and even then you might not know that it took expenditure of over £90,000,000 to get this word into the OED.Continue reading full article…