5

I heard the word Homeoffice first around 2010. It is not directly borrowed from English, since English speaking countries use constructions like "work from home".

There is also the older German word Telearbeit which is still in use but usually only applied to situations where someone is using a complete room in their flat as an office, not just a desk in the living room with a notebook computer.

Where and when was the word Homeoffice created?

12
  • 4
    You can find "home office" meaning a place to work from home in Wiktionary. Wiktionary also says that German Homeoffice is borrowed from English. I think you're talking about Homeoffice in the sense of telecommuting, and you're correct that this doesn't exist in English. It seems that the word was originally borrowed from English, but gained a new meaning in German. In any case, it would help to include a sentence for context so people can be sure which meaning you're referring to.
    – RDBury
    Mar 12 at 17:28
  • 1
    I don't know why you rule out borrowing from English. "home office" is a perfectly common term in English. See e.g., 1 2 3 4 5, I could go on.
    – Chris H
    Mar 13 at 8:18
  • 1
    Mostly american links because if you restrict search to UK you mostly get stuff about the government branch, but as a native British English speaker I can assure you "home office" is in regular usage there too.
    – Chris H
    Mar 13 at 8:20
  • 3
    @JFabianMeier I'd argue that "das Homeoffice" refers to an Arbeitszimmer as well. Only if transferring the term to mean the activity of working from there (e.g. "er macht heute home office"), i.e. Heimarbeit or Telearbeit, it would be relaxed to also include working from the couch in your living room, if your job allows that.
    – Bergi
    Mar 13 at 8:57
  • 2
    @ChrisH: It should be noted that even when I (native German speaker) say "Ich bin heute im Home Office.", I definitely do not think of it as a room, or any particular space or location. (And in practice, it can mean that I sit at home at in our computer room just as much as it might mean that I'm using my notebook somewhere on a train.) Conceptually, it rather feels like an activity/working mode, same as in "Ich bin jetzt in Elternzeit." Mar 13 at 12:49

1 Answer 1

8

The term was most likely coined between 1990 and 1994.

First Occurrences: 1994

When looking at the first occurrences of the term, it won't be possible to be certain about the very earliest occurrences for methodical reasons.

With this method, we will always talk about an upper boundary of the actual first use of the word. Special attention has to be paid to the fact that the word "home office" exists in English (but with the meaning of "ministery of the interior" in British English, and "headquarters", "main office" in American English).

The first ever mentioning of the word in a German newspaper (according to DWDS-Wortverlaufskurve for German newspapers [1]) seems to be 1994. The first occurrence in the searchable corpus [2], [3] of DWDS is from 1997, though (in an article from Die ZEIT), in the spelling Home-Office. Browsing through the first hits gives me the impression that the term mostly referred to the situation of freelancers or self-employed people working with a computer.

Likely Lower Boundary: 1990

For a lower boundary, we have to use other methods, which might not yield perfectly accurate results, but still give us some hints for a more informed guess.

It seems reasonable to assume that the word Home Office would be influenced by a broadening of meaning of the word Office (both in English and German) from "administrative department", "agency", "Amt", "Amtsstube" to also include the meaning "workplace for white-collar jobs".

Looking into the occurrences of Office in the DWDS corpus gives us some hints: DWDS corpus reaches back only to 1897, but looking beyond that is not of interest for the question at hand anyways. (The term and its variations have been around for a long time, as English imported it from French, which took it from Latin officium, but I don't think it is relevant for the question of Home Office.)

Within this time frame, the term Office has basically always been in use in German, with varying frequency.[4] In the beginning, Office was used with feminine gender in German. (One of the first hits in the DWDS corpus is Karl May, who peppered in foreign language expressions into his texts as a stylistic device, in order to make the narrator sound widely-traveled. He uses feminine gender.)

Browsing through the hits in DWDS corpus around the 1990's, the most frequent occurrence of the term Office in German (besides non-translated occurrences of foreign language terms such as Oval Office, Office du Tourisme, Central Office, and so on), relate to Microsoft Office a suite of computer programs (most notably for text editing, spreadsheet calculations and presentations), accompanied by a couple of competitors with similar names (Corel Office, Star Office). This is the Office with the meaning we are interested in. Microsoft Office was first released in 1990.[5]

I would reckon that the name of these software products paved the way for the term Home Office, making 1990 a likely lower boundary for the coining of Home Office. This theory involves some amount of speculation, but it is quite convincing to me, as both words correlate to a new way of working involving the computer. It seems plausible to me that this revolution of the work style, the emergence of a new concept of work sparked a desire for a new word and that the existence of the very prominent Office computer program would make German speakers favor the anglicism Home Office over creating new German words such as *Heimbüro (which does not exist).

1
  • 1
    That fits with my experience as German "Homeoffice" until the late aughts meant that your employer would endow you with a (tower) PC, monitor (CRT, later LCD), keyboard, mouse etc. and a WAN/VPN connection to the company network. It was a huge affair and costly as well so it was usually done only for a limited number of employees. But I also remember that term being used ca. 2000 when I was working in 2nd level IT support for an insurance company. These days, "im Homeoffice sein / arbeiten" (to be in or to work from "Homeoffice") just means you open up your company laptop, maybe on the sofa.
    – YetiCGN
    Mar 13 at 11:30

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.