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A 'Working' Vocabulary on Words to the Wise

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A warehouse worker in Laredo, Texas.
A warehouse worker in Laredo, Texas.

Hello again from the Learning English studio at the Voice of America. I’m Dorothy Gundy. Learning English reporter Pete Musto has joined me today. Hi Pete.

Hi Dorothy.

We want to talk about the English words and phrases that our audience wants to learn about on “Words to the Wise.” So, we asked for suggestions from you. And we got ideas!

We did. Our fan Gustavo, for one, proposed a show about words found in the work world. Today, that is what we will talk about.

I think first we should think of words that are similar in meaning to “job.”

There are lots. Like “occupation.” It is kind of a more formal term than job but it means the same thing. Someone might ask you “what’s your job?” or they could ask “what’s your occupation?” and it would mean the same thing.

Right -- both are perfectly acceptable usages. And, another word you use is “profession,” as in “what is your profession?” And even more commonly used “what do you do for a living?” That means “what’s your job?” as well.

But job, occupation and profession cannot always be used in the exact same way. For example, let’s say you apply for a position at a college and you are hired. You might excitedly tell a friend, “I got the job!” You would not say “I got the occupation!” –- “I got the profession!”

No, of course not. That would sound very strange.

Strange, indeed.

You would always use job in that structure. Or you could use the word “position.”

True, that’s a fine substitute. Now, let’s say you remained in that job, or continued that kind of work, for a long time. That becomes what we call a “career.”

Merriam Webster’s Learner’s Dictionary defines a career as a profession for which one trains and which is undertaken as a permanent calling.

You could have a career in academia, which means university teaching. Or you could have a career in engineering, acting or journalism!

There are a lot of fields or trades to go into.

Fields? Trades?

Yes. Not field like an open land covered in grass and other plants. Field can also be defined as an area or division of an activity, subject, or profession -- like medicine. Trade is similar: the business or work in which one engages regularly.

So, let’s try to put this all together. You’re at a party and you meet someone new. You might say, “So what do you do for a living?”

And they answer: “I’m retired…”

Oh, lucky you!

Right… “but I was in the pharmaceutical trade.”

Oh, what was your job, sales?

No. I was in the drug development field. I created a cure for the common cold and made a gazillion dollars.

Wow, sounds like you had a wonderful career!

Well, Pete, I think our “job” here is done. But we will revisit the subject of “work-talk” at another time on Words to the Wise.

Thanks for joining us today. And please keep your comments coming. Tell us what you’d like to hear about on Words to the Wise.

I’m Pete Musto

And I’m Dorothy Gundy.

Words in This Story

formaladj. suitable for serious or official speech and writing

applyv. to ask formally for something (such as a job, admission to a school, a loan, etc.) usually in writing

hirev. to give work or a job to (someone) in exchange for wages or a salary

indeedadv. without any question — used to stress the truth of a statement

substituten. a person or thing that takes the place of someone or something else

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