This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies. See our privacy statement
World Wide Words logo

In the field

Q From Meg Pitt: We were having a discussion at work and were wondering what the origin of the phrase in the field was. The reference was to people who work outside or remotely from the main office.

A It comes from one of the earliest senses of field, one that is now obsolete. Originally field meant any open, flat stretch of unwooded landscape, not one that was necessarily cultivated. It was also used specifically as the opposite of an urban area, as in town and field. Such open areas were the sort of terrain preferred for the set-piece battles of earlier times, and so it became used in such expressions as field of battle. To be in the field then meant to be away from headquarters on a military campaign. The phrase has more recently shifted to refer to anybody who works away from base, even though they may actually be in an urban area and not out in the countryside at all.

Page created 17 Jul. 1999

Support World Wide Words.

Donate by selecting your currency and clicking the button.


Buy anything from Amazon and get me a small commission at no cost to you.

Buy from Amazon UK Buy from Amazon USA

World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–2014. All rights reserved. See the copyright page for notes about linking to and reusing this page. For help in viewing the site, see the technical FAQ. Your comments, corrections and suggestions are always welcome.

World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–2014. All rights reserved.
This page URL: http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-int1.htm
Last modified: 17 July 1999.