World Wide Words logo


Q From Andrew Arnold in Denmark: I have recently come across the word organogram as a description of a company’s structure. It is presumably a truncation of organisation diagram. Have you come across this travesty before? I am assured it is common business usage by the person who wants to use it on our intranet site, but I think they’ll be stepping across my stiffening body before it gets published.

A I’m sorry to have to tell you that I first came across this bit of organisational jargon, so spelled, in a British Sunday newspaper in June 1994, and it was some way from new even then. The original spelling was the more correct organigram and it can be dated back to 1962. (We seem to have got the word from French, in which organigramme has been recorded as long ago as 1952). Oddly, the first example in the Oxford English Dictionary — from Antony Sampson’s Anatomy of Britain — spells it with an o. However, for the next couple of decades the i form seems to have predominated.

A quick Web search threw up more than 1,500 examples of the o spelling (as well as several other examples from British newspapers that included the Economist and the Daily Telegraph), as against 2,700 examples spelled with an i. Someone in the human resources business seems to have decided in the early to mid nineties that organogram with an o looked more sexy than the other spelling (or perhaps Mr Sampson’s book suddenly became fashionable again). It may be gradually taking over and we may eventually be stuck with it in this spelling. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to use it: there’s nothing like being a last-ditcher against the onrush of barbarianism to make life interesting.

I agree with you about its infelicity — it’s a ghastly word which should have been strangled at birth. It looks confusingly like a unit of weight, a misapprehension heightened in the o spelling, which confuses it with the perfectly respectable prefix organo- (“Two hundred organograms of my best parsnips? Coming right up, sir!”). It’s best avoided in the real world, I suggest, where organisational diagram will be better understood, but if your arm is being viciously twisted, do at least spell it with an i!

Page created 15 Jan. 2000

Support World Wide Words and keep this site alive.

Donate by selecting your currency and clicking the button.

Buy from Amazon and get me a small commission at no cost to you. Select a site and click Go!

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:
Last modified: 15 January 2000.