A customer called me 'officious'

I work in a bank. I was being very formal and following procedure.
When I looked the word up in a dictionary the meanings are ‘officious - intrusive in a meddling or offensive manner’, and ‘disposed to serve; kind; obliging.’
I do not think he was using the word in either meaning.
I think he was saying I was being overly official in adhering to the procedures of the bank. What word do you think he was trying to say?

Probably that you were trying to be overly official. I just recently learned that officious is one of those words that doesn’t mean what you think it should mean. I always thought it was overly official, bureaucratic, because of how Stephen King used it in “The Shining.”

You look like bank officer material. They had no idea it didn’t mean that.

“Thank you, sir, I try to be extremely cromulent in my work. It embiggens me that you should notice.”

I did say thank you to him because I thought he was saying I was following procedures.

Why is there no mention of this usuage on online dictionaries?

That would have been a nice reply.

New usages have to become fairly established in the language before lexicographers consider listing them in the dictionary. It’s possible that it’s uncommon enough that they’re unaware of the usage (it can’t make the cut if they don’t know about it), or maybe they’re aware of it but still consider it a mistake because it hasn’t become common enough to be a well understood part of English.

On the other hand, picture this: a guy is pissed at his bank - something’s gone wrong with his account, he’s trying to get something straightened out - and some bank employee starts following rules and regulations that really don’t seem pertinent and treats the slowly burning customer with some measure of what seems to be disdain. The customer, after having held his tongue for the entire time, tries to convey this to the bank’s representative. “You are being quite officious,” to which the bank employee responds, “Thank you, sir.”

Does this strike anyone else as funny?

Can you give me any cites of this new usage?

I’m not sure it is a real usage. I just know that I personally (and I guess the guy you spoke to) thought it meant overly official.

With some dictionaries that’s true. It sometimes seems to me, though, that Merriam-Webster’s minimum criterion for inclusion is that three or more frat boys once used the word during the early morning hours of a keg party.

He might have been going for “Anally retentive”.

I found two examples where this entertainment writer uses the word in the sense of “very formal or official”. He clearly seems to think it has a meaning with no negative connotation.

I wasn’t specifically searching his archive either. I did a Lexis Search on the word, and this guy came up a couple times, and his writing was helpful because there was enough context that it was clear what he meant. So there are definitely professional writers out there who clearly think it means “formal”, and it’s not a long step from there to imagine that a customer would say so in a business context and mean it as a compliment, especially if they were frustrated with informal service at other places.

Or maybe the customer insulted you, and you said “thank you”. :smiley: Eh, sometimes these things happen.

I’ve yet to come across a single credible criticism of good ole M-W. They’ve taken fire for many years now, since the publication of the Third, but nothing has stuck.

I think maybe you’re just a bit persnickety about language. You’re a Garner fan, are you not? :wink:

I am, precisely because i find him an excellent middle ground between hidebound prescriptivism and laissez-faire linguistic nihilism. :slight_smile:

I grabbed the closest dictionary on my shelf, which happens to be the 1966 edition of Webster’s New World (Sure, I bet you all throw out your old dictionairies!) The definitions are, indeed, as noted, “ready to serve” and “offering unnecessary and unwanted advice or services; meddlesome.”

However, I also noted the word officialism: “the characteristic practices and behavior of officials; especially, excessive adherence to official routine and regulations; red tape.”

Then I pulled out something more current, the 1999 edition of Roget’s 21st Century Thesaurus. Under officious, it says “Self-important, dictatorial,” and of the 14 synonyms it gives, the only one that is NOT negative is “pragmatic.”

So while the word the customer was probably grasping for was bureaucratic (or perhaps officialistic) “officious” seems to be an accepted synonym.

ETA: I just pulled up the Encarta Dictionary of MS Word and for “officious” it says “meddlesome and interfering.”

In fact, it is the very first word in the book, IIRC.

When a bank customer is being a jerk and asking for bank procedure to be broken and asks me to break the law on his behalf, I have a method to deal with said customer. Instead of telling him to “Fuck off loser !”, I become overly bureaucratic and pedantic. It annoys the jerk and makes it difficult for him to complain about me.

Mainly to see what happened, I looked up “officious” in the dictionary that comes with Mac OS X. From the New Oxford American Dictionary, it gives the first definition as “assertive of authority in an annoyingly domineering way, esp. with regard to petty or trivial matters,” which sounds like what the customer meant.

Interestingly, the thesaurus that’s part of the same application (the Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus), adds a discussion of the difference between “officious” and “official,” using as an example of the proper use of officious, “he was an officious teller who chastised us for not properly sorting our money by denomination.”

Douglas Adams used the word “Officious” to describe the Vogons; and from the context he clearly meant it in the “Bureaucratic Rule Nazi” sense.