In a move welcomed by office workers everywhere, the Oxford English Dictionary has today granted full ironic status to the expression ‘working from home’. This status will initially apply to Fridays only, but depending on its success may in due course be rolled out across the entire working week.
Before this ground-breaking move, the traditional excuse given for a manager’s absence from the office on a Friday was required to be accompanied by a wiggling of the index and middle fingers of both hands, a raising of the eyebrows and an exaggerated pout. When used on the phone, the expression had to be said in a slow, emphasised way, preferably with a small pause beforehand and a clearing of the throat afterwards.
‘It’s one of those difficult expressions that goes beyond mere euphemism,’ explained lexicographer Sadie Forbes. ‘Originally it was almost always meant literally, with managers saving up routine work for the end of the week and perhaps taking advantage of not having to commute to make an early weekend getaway.’
‘It was only when people noticed that emails from home-workers were almost invariably terse and sent from mobile devices, and all their phone calls were accompanied by background noises of shopping or dog-walking, that the ironic use gained the upper hand.’
The only downside of full ironic status is that an adverb such as ‘genuinely’ or ‘actually’ will need to be used for a small number of people who really do get out of bed and down to work. People who habitually work from home, such as ‘writers’ and ‘consultants’, are not expected to be bothered by the new distinction, many of whom have long lunchtime ‘meetings’ away from home on Fridays anyway.
The expression is soon expected to join ‘spending more time with my family’ and ‘musical differences’ in losing its literal meaning completely. The OED added that it is prepared for its website to crash when the news is formally announced under the weight of complaints from people ‘working from home’ who are ‘actually’ just dicking about on the Internet.