I have a character working in a short-term temporary position in an organisation and refer to her doing the work using the usual UK word, 'temping'. Will this be understood by readers in the US and other English-speaking cultures? If not, is there an equivalent culture-neutral term or should I spell it out?

  • In Denmark we use a similar term, "vikar", an example of which could be a (temporary) substitute teacher. Can the "temping" refer to someone undergoing an internship? We also have the 'intern' term (praktikant) for paid and unpaid work. My point is: I'm not a native English speaker, but I believe "the avergage English-speaking Danish person" would understand your use of it. This could of course be based on or influenced by pop-culture, but I would hope that native English-speaking cultures would understand it too.
    – storbror
    Feb 11 '17 at 12:30
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    As others have pointed out, the term "temping" is common in the US (even as a verb). Since the question is now on the home page (I fixed the tags), maybe we can get some answers that talk about the term's usage in English-speaking countries other than the US and the UK. May 30 '19 at 14:09

I believe the word "temping" is culturally-specific, but not along national lines of culture. An American with experience in corporate environments where temps are common would know the word. A Brit without that corporate experience might not.

In either case, the word is pretty self-explanatory. I would use it without hesitation in anything I wrote.

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    As someone from the US without any corporate experience, I pretty much knew exactly what it meant without any context (just seeing the title). Feb 11 '17 at 14:21

All slang is culturally specific. The meaning of most of it can be figured out by context though. Certainly "temping" falls into that category.

But vocabulary recognition simply does not happen on a word by word basis. It happens in the context of the story being told. As kids, we pick up new words all the time, not from having them defined for us, but from hearing them used in context and seeing what they mean and how they are used. (This is why learning to speak a second language idiomatically from a book or in a classroom is so difficult. We don't get to see use in context.)

You can make up entirely new slang and just use it in context and if you set the context right, the reader will pick up its meaning.


Why not be safe? Explain the term the first time you use it. E.g.

Joan was working in a temporary position. She hated temping.

Something like this doesn't feel strange to those that know the word, and it helps those who don't.

The question, always, is who you write for. If you want to reach the widest possible audience, avoid jargon and slang, or explain it.

And, please, don't think that because a handful of other writers here on this site know or understand that word, the common reader will, too. If you want a useful answer to your question, you need to sample your target audience.

  • I only know what temping is because I watched a lot of Doctor Who. Had absolutely no idea what it meant the first few times they said it on the show, but I was also, like, twelve
    – tryin
    May 31 '19 at 4:59

We have Temp Agencies in America, that, as their name implies, find temporary work for people. The people who work in temporary positions are referred to as "temps." I first heard the word in ordinary conversation when a friend referred to an acquaintance as a temp. So I recognized the verb "temping" immediately.

However, I'd never heard "temp" used as a verb, so out of curiosity, I did a google search to see if "temping" as a verb occurs in American English. Yes, it does. Here's an American article that came up: http://www.bestessaywriters.com/essay/the-temptations-of-temping/

I also found "temping" in this online American dictionary: http://www.macmillandictionary.com/us/dictionary/american/temp_2

(Underneath the definition, the user can click on "See the British English Definition", which in this case was the same as the American definition.)

So, I'd say you're safe to use it for your American readers. Perhaps you can do a country-specific search to determine if it exists in other English-speaking countries.

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