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I've noticed over the last few years that people who were formerly my colleagues have become my work colleagues. Does anyone know why this should be so?

(Perhaps I should also mention that the buildings we used to call "stations" have become "train stations". Perhaps these are specific examples of a more general phenomenon?)

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up vote 16 down vote accepted

This is called a back formation. That is, a class of noun which once meant something specific all by itself, now has rivals.

The classic example is guitar. At one time, all guitars were "acoustic" guitars, and so the "acoustic" modifier was not needed. Now that there are electric guitars, the term guitar may mean an electric guitar, so people who want to be specific about the non-electric version will specify an "acoustic" guitar.

Presumably you can have other types of colleagues than "work" colleagues, but the back formation here seems a bit redundant. There are other kinds of stations besides train stations, so the formation is more obviously beneficial there.

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+1 Could you please give an example for colleagues other than work/project related? I always call them mates. – stacker Jan 4 '11 at 21:45
A colleague is an associate in an occupation or a profession. So you could be a doctor and a member of the AMA, say, and other doctors could be considered your colleagues even though you have never worked with them in the same practice or hospital. – Robusto Jan 4 '11 at 21:53
I think you have the measure of it in your answer. I don't recall hearing "train station" before the age of "work stations" and "play stations" (bus stations have been around a lot longer). I've never heard of "colleague" being used for someone working somewhere else, but if it is, I can see how this back-formation might appear. Thank you. – Brian Hooper Jan 5 '11 at 19:50

I use the term work colleague for those I see at my day job, and colleague for those I volunteer with. I think a few other people do this, too.

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