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New York Times

A lawyer by training, he said he was shocked that the person who gave him the Conyers documents declined his offer to pay

I didn’t understand what this prepositional phrase implies.

I looked this phrase up but I didn’t see anything related to.

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Roughly:

  • a lawyer by training = a trained lawyer
  • a teacher by training = a trained teacher

For some reason, this expression seems to be used more with lawyer than with most other professions – behold the ngram.

For whatever reason, this expression seems to be typically used less for blue collar professions. For example, I tried another ngram where I checked for: mechanic, welder, doctor, and teacher; only doctor by training and teacher by training returned any hits. (Some might wonder if this seems a little counterintuitive, really, as we might consider welders to be trained and doctors to be educated – but that's just how the expression is typically used.)

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The phrase by training basically means the same thing as the expressions by trade and by profession. I would even go so far as to say that they can be used pretty much interchangeably in everyday conversation. When you say that you are a lawyer, an electrician, an engineer etc. by training, this means that you received a formal education (or training) in your particular area of expertise. In other words, saying that you are somebody by training puts emphasis the fact that you are legally qualified to do your job.

The opposite expression of by training would be by vocation. A vocation, simply put, is the thing that you actually want to do in life as opposed to what you've been formally taught in school as a profession. Yet another way to describe this situation is to say that although you studied one thing in school, something else has been your calling in life.

Examples:

I'm a mathematician by trade, but a writer by vocation. I studied math at the university, but have never really worked as a mathematician because I always wanted to be a writer.

Even though I studied medicine in college, working as an architect has always been my calling.

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