I've always used the word branch when describing the type of industry, line of business or operation category. Please note that I'm not referring to a part of a concern structure as in "Scranton branch of Dunder Mifflin".

For instance, to express that John is in finance and doesn't understand the importance of well defined code structure, which a programmer or other IT professional definitely would, I'd state the following.

"Jonh doesn't know jack. He's not in our branch."

I've never got eye browse arousal on this so I lived happily ignorant that it might be an incorrect usage of the Swedish term (borrowed word from English) until my colleague had the cruelty to point that out for me.

I tried to defend my position with an online dictionary but apparently there's a bug in their logic because it only confirmed the said colleague's critique of my expression. :)

Seriously speaking, though, I'd like to get some light shed on the usage of the term. Is it understandable? Commonly used? Poetically or metaphorically expressed? Just plain wrong?

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    What is "eye browse arousal"? Do you mean "raised eyebrows"? Commented Aug 1, 2013 at 9:36
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    With the necessary spelling correction, "eyebrows arousal" doesn't sound that bad. It's almost alliterative. I like it!
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Aug 1, 2013 at 10:58
  • @Mari-LouA My browser auto-corrected. Sorry. Not sure why, though... As for the formulation, it was intended as a joke. I know it's not a common expression. What is alliterative in this context? Commented Aug 1, 2013 at 11:34
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    The two words share similar sounds with one another. The link explains it better. collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/…
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Aug 1, 2013 at 11:41

3 Answers 3


The best word for this idea depends on the context.

Within a company: As you allude to in your question, branch is appropriate for referring to other offices within the same company. To distinguish colleagues by role rather than location, you can use department or division. Many companies will have additional local jargon along those lines, like job function, organization, role, or silo.

Generally: For people who don't (necessarily) work for the same company, you can talk about different fields, industries, sectors, or specialties, depending on the nature of the difference. For example, industry and sector generally refer to very broad categories like finance, government, manufacturing, military, and non-profit, whereas field and specialty usually refer to different roles within the academic, engineering, and scientific sectors.

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    Really, whether you use division, department, branch, or section depends on the organizational hierarchy. Many organizations in the U.S. government use "branch" in their hierarchies.
    – J.R.
    Commented Aug 1, 2013 at 10:50
  • It's the broad version of general term that I was looking for. In fact, the division includes "non-profit", "finance", "military" etc. Perfect! Also - is the terminology applicable on all the sides of the Atlantic? Commented Aug 1, 2013 at 11:43
  • Just learnt something new from Bradd's comment: I thought specialty looked strange. On checking I find that specialty is more common in AmE & speciality is more common in BrE.
    – TrevorD
    Commented Aug 1, 2013 at 12:23

In American English, the term "branch" is used used in the corporate environment to describe the department of a company. You can have the Finance branch or the Development branch. I've also heard it used to localize project teams - the East Americas branch or the Bangalore branch. The metaphor that comes to mind are the branches of the corporate tree.

In the context of your sentence, I would suggest using the word "field" to describe an area of expertise. This term isn't limited to a corporate environment and can be used universally to describe groups of people - the programming field, the finance field, the sales field, etc.

  • I would use branch only to refer to other offices, not to other departments within an office, and even then only for certain kinds of business. Otherwise, this is a solid answer. +1. Commented Aug 1, 2013 at 9:59
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    @Brad: Actually, his remark about other depts within an office is spot-on. Many organizations have an R&D branch, e.g.
    – J.R.
    Commented Aug 1, 2013 at 10:36
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    Given your explanation here, I think "field" is perfectly appropriate. I don't think it seems colloquial at all, though I'm curious why it rings as informal in your ear. Perhaps because it's from Old English? I've gone through all the suggestions in the different responses here and spent some time with the dictionary and thesaurus, and in the situation you've described, "field" fits perfectly.
    – Rusty Tuba
    Commented Aug 1, 2013 at 12:59
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    @KonradViltersten, ‘field’ is precisely the right word to use when you would speak of someone som inte jobbar i vår bransch in Swedish. That is “someone who’s not in our field” or “someone who doesn’t work in our field”. Commented Aug 1, 2013 at 14:37
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    How about work_field simply? That seems simpler to me, unless of course there is another field that specifically contains information about their job, as opposed to what field they work in. (Jag pratar flytande danska, så svenska är generellt set lätt som en plätt för mig, även om rättstavning inte alltid är det…) Commented Aug 1, 2013 at 15:57

You refer to "describing the type of industry, line of business or operation category." I'm not clear whether you're referring to people working within the same company, or people working for different (unrelated) companies. My answer is based on British usage, and on people working within a single company.

In general, branch would refer to a different physical location, and also carries the connotation that it is a section that has direct contact with customers, usually a location (e.g. shop, store, office) that customers may actually visit.

Additionally, branch does not necessarily imply different functions: they may well be carrying out the same functions at different locations. For example, shops (stores) and banks may have multiple branches in various towns, but they will all be selling to / severing customers at their respective locations. Hence, they could not be described as different 'departments' or 'sections'.

In general, department or section would be used to indicate parts of the company carrying out different functions, irrespective of whether they are physically located in the same or different places.

Finally, you can just say things like: "Fred is in Programming", "John is in Finance", "Jill is in Sales", etc.. But note that you would say:

John is in Finance (no "the"); but
John is in the Finance Department

and likewise with my other examples.

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    In fact, correct me if I'm wrong, it's common to say e.g: The [name of department store] Nottingham branch and The [name of department store] branches.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Aug 1, 2013 at 11:09
  • Thanks. In fact, I meant the workforce as a whole, independently of workplace, employer etc. Also, I'd prefer the American terminology since the team is from UK. Commented Aug 1, 2013 at 11:39
  • Sorry. You want American terminology because the team is from the UK?!
    – TrevorD
    Commented Aug 1, 2013 at 12:18
  • As regards AmE v. BrE, I think all the terms used in @BraddSzonye's answer would also be OK in BrE. But there does seem to be a difference in use of the word Branch, altho' I note from the comments that even two AmE users have different views on that.
    – TrevorD
    Commented Aug 1, 2013 at 12:28
  • @TrevorD Yes. It's matter of being a tease. :) Commented Aug 1, 2013 at 15:47

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