Why do we work in an office?

After working from home, many of us are moving back into a “new normal” of going to the office for at least part of the time. But why do we work in an office? Like bakers work in bakeries, farmers work on a farm and gardeners in gardens, we may just be businesses’ officers.

Here are some of the ways that workplaces got their sometimes unusual names.

OFFICE—where an officer worked—being someone with a government or administrative position with certain duties. It comes from Latin “officium” for an obligatory service, official duty, or ceremonial observance (in Medieval Latin a church service). It has been used for about 600 years.

SHOP—workers have been serving people in shops for over 700 years—the word is thought to have come from Old English “scoppa” a rare word related to “scypen” meaning cowshed (no more can I tell you).

STUDY—a room furnished with books is where a scholar works and undertakes their study (the application of the mind to the acquisition of knowledge, intensive reading and contemplation of books and writings) from Old French “estudie”.

STUDIO—as a work-room of a sculptor or painter usually one with large windows to admit more light. It comes from the Italian word “studio” as a room for study.

CABIN—pilots and sailors work in cabins—like a small, roughly constructed house (assumed built on the boat to keep the captain from the weather) from Late Latin “capanna”.

CABINET—is where senior ministers in a government work—it is the diminutive form of cabin, meaning little room (presumably with Scott Morrison holding all the Australian Cabinet positions only a very small room was needed—sorry couldn’t help myself).

COCKPIT—a pilot flies a plane in a cockpit, which does indeed come from a pit for fighting cocks. Like many aviation words it was borrowed from the nautical sense originally used to describe midshipmen’s compartment below decks (we assume not as a compliment) and its meaning was transferred to airplanes (1914) and to racing cars (1930s).

FACTORY—originally meant the “estate manager’s office,” via French from Late Latin “factorium” meaning office for agents (i.e. factors). As a building for making goods it is first used in the 1610s.

RESTAURANT—is a recent English word taken from the French. It derives from the idea of buying a meal that restores (“restaurer” to restore or refresh).

Can anyone tell me why barristers work in CHAMBERS and medical professionals in ROOMS?