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If you’re reading this in the office, you may be cyberloafing, as it’s the term for employees who surf the Internet when they should be working. It’s not an especially new word (it dates from the end of the heyday of the cyber- word-creation boom, with the first example probably being in Toni Kamins' article Cyber-loafing: Does Employee Time Online Add Up to Net Losses?, in the New York Daily News in July 1995) but it became briefly newsworthy in 2002 following the publication of a paper by Vivien K G Lim of the National University of Singapore in the Journal of Organizational Behavior. She surveyed a selection of self-identified cyberloafers and found they often did so not out of boredom or laziness but as an act of defiance against what they saw as unjust actions by their employers — so a conscious attempt to balance the ledger. The root of the term is the colloquial English noun loafer, someone who spends time idly. This is known from about 1830, originally in the US, but its origin is unknown; it might just possibly come from an old German word for a tramp, Landläufer.

Gartner estimates that about five percent of enterprise workers engage in inappropriate online behavior at the office, ranging from simple “cyberloafing” to using company Internet access to hold down a second job.

Business Wire, May 2001

As employers grow wary of workers cyberloafing and worry about litigation over offensive and incriminating e-mail, many companies are cracking down with strict e-mail use policies and software to monitor network usage.

PC World, Mar. 2000

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 19 Oct. 2002
Last updated: 26 Mar. 2005

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
This page URL: http://www.worldwidewords.org/turnsofphrase/tp-cyb3.htm
Last modified: 26 March 2005.