While watching the following video by Buzzfeed, entitled $1 Sushi Vs. $133 Sushi • Japan, one of the guests invited on the culinary road trip, a Japanese woman, used the expression “work wife”.
Stephen: Where we’re goin’ next Andrew?
Andrew: So next we’re on our way to a place called Shun Sushi, is that right? [Rie: “I’m here”] And it comes recommended by one of our colleagues named Hitomi, actually.
Rie: Yep, my work wife
Andrew: Your work wife?
Rie: Yeah so this restaurant is neighbourhood sushi joint. Somewhere you wanna go once in a while when you’re craving sushi.
In my naivete, and never having heard this expression before in my life, I thought Rie had a romantic partner with whom she worked. Instead, a little sleuthing revealed that a work wife or a work husband (note the absence of the present participle suffix -ing) is someone who works with you in close proximity. In other words, more than a co-worker or a normal colleague but not somebody you’re actually married to. A BBC article defines it as “…‘work spouse’, a significant, but platonic, other whom you pair up with at the office.” and they throw in a few statistics for good measure
Career website Vault.com found that every year since 2010 about 30% of the people they surveyed said they had a ‘work spouse’, with the exception of 2013 when that share jumped to 44%.
Having a ‘work spouse’ makes you happier, 7 November 2016
I would like to know how common this term is in the UK and in the US. Is it used among informal or in business settings?
When did workers begin calling their closest work colleagues a work husband or work wife?
If I really had a spouse with whom I worked, what would I call him or her? My working partner? My partner and work spouse?
According to the following article the idea of using terminology typical of marriage relationship dates back to the ‘30s. But the terms work wife/husband are relatively recent and date to the late ‘80s.
Although the term “office wife” has been around since the 1930s, the modern definition, the one that places the “work spouses” in an equal partnership, has only been around for 30 years. “Work marriage,” “work wife” and “work husband” first appeared in a 1987 Atlantic article by David Owen in which he describes the close but platonic relationships that can exist between coworkers, even asserting that the relationship is in some ways better than an actual marriage.
In the article McBride (professor of communication studies at Creighton University) notes that the expression has changed over time and now refers to the dynamics of marriage on a more equal basis:
Owen’s article referenced a degree of subservience on the part of the woman in the relationship, but McBride said changes to these relationships over the years have mirrored changes in actual marriage dynamics.
“I think the term is relatively new because the workforce has changed in the last 20 to 30 years,” McBride said. “If we think back to the ‘Mad Men’ days, there was, all the time, speculation about the boss and his secretary and what was going on. The difference now is that the relationships are more on equal footing, and I think that reflects the way we think about marriage now, too.”
The term also expresses the closeness of a relationship that can’t fully be described by the lexicon that already exists.
Wikipedia defines the expression as mainly AmE:
Work spouse" is a phrase, mostly in American English. A work spouse may not just be a co-worker, but can also be someone in a similar field who the individual works closely with from a partnering company. A "work spouse" is also referred to as "workplace spouse", "work wife", or "office husband", "work husband", or "wusband".