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?)

4 Answers 4


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.

  • 2
    +1 Could you please give an example for colleagues other than work/project related? I always call them mates.
    – stacker
    Commented Jan 4, 2011 at 21:45
  • 12
    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
    Commented Jan 4, 2011 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. Commented Jan 5, 2011 at 19:50
  • @BrianHooper - Train station has been around for 60 years that I know of, probably much longer. Work station, in the sense of an office desk or computer terminal, goes back maybe 40 years, but the term in manufacturing goes back 100 years. Play station has also been around for 100 years or so, in the sense of an indoor playground (as at a hospital). None of these are "new" in any reasonable sense.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Jun 2, 2016 at 12:19
  • 2
    My wife has a fit about "Unsweet Tea"
    – JDPeckham
    Commented Jan 3, 2018 at 1:20

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.


I am an athlete & would consider My Teammates “colleagues” the same as I would consider the Folks I work w/ as colleagues. Both groups I “work” w/ in a sense, It matters I suppose how one defines work, or what one’s perception of what work is, how play or hobbies differentiate. Mental /physical energy can easily be expended in both instances.


The phrase 'work colleague' is a complete redundancy in my opinion as the definition for 'colleague' in a variety of dictionaries boils down to 'someone you work with'. I have never seen a different definition.

I would find it far more appropriate to clarify associates (using the AMA example above) etc. rather than to add a word that really does not add any value to the sentence.

The phrase is a pet hate of mine though so I may be a little biased against it.

  • 1
    There are plenty of redundant expressions in English - see rants passim.
    – Chenmunka
    Commented Jun 2, 2016 at 12:13
  • Don't get me started on Chai Tea Latte at Panera.
    – JDPeckham
    Commented Jan 3, 2018 at 1:21

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