I read a sentence in Word by Word by Kory Stamper which was:

We had the restaurant mostly to ourselves, and talk turned shop-wise.

The context is:

A month, I have come to discover, is not that long in lexicographical terms. In 2013, the University of Georgia hosted the biennial meeting of the Dictionary Society of North America, an academic society for lexicographers, linguists, and logophiles interested in dictionaries. One of the attendees was Peter Gilliver, a lexicographer from the Oxford English Dictionary, who joined a crew of us for dinner.

We had the restaurant mostly to ourselves, and talk turned shop-wise. We discussed the differences between defining for the OED, which is a historical dictionary with over 600,000 senses, and defining for the Collegiate Dictionary, a relative lightweight at about 230,000 senses.

I want to ask what does shop-wise mean in the above sentence.

  • 8
    The cited usage is an unusual stylistic flourish (derived from colloquial talk shop = talk about work-related matters, riffing off constructions such as to turn clockwise). It's not "standard, typical" (and syntactically it's at least "questionable"), so learners should probably avoid copying it. Oct 3, 2019 at 12:29
  • 1
    Could you provide a bit more context, such as the following sentences?
    – V2Blast
    Oct 4, 2019 at 5:30

3 Answers 3


To "talk shop" means to talk about work/business. See Merriam Webster:

to talk about work

They like to talk shop during lunch.

The -wise suffix means with respect to, concerning. For example: "security-wise" means concerning security, about security.

So "talk turned shop-wise" means they started to talk about work.


I understand it out of context as "in the direction of the subject of shops", especially as it's introduced with "turned", and the sentence mentions a restaurant, "shop" being an informal word for a business.

We had the restaurant mostly to ourselves, and talk turned shop-wise.

We had the restaurant mostly to ourselves, and talk turned to the subject of shops.

However, in the context of the full passage, it's clear they're talking about their work, in this case dictionary writing. The author has used "to talk shop" (a standard idiomatic phrase) in a non standard (but still understandable) way with the word "turned" and the suffix "-wise".

We had the restaurant mostly to ourselves, and talk turned to the subject of work.

See shop from Wikipedia (definitions 4 & 8):


shop (plural shops)

  1. An establishment that sells goods or services to the public; originally only a physical location, but now a virtual establishment as well.
  2. A place where things are manufactured or crafted; a workshop.
  3. A large garage where vehicle mechanics work.
  4. Workplace; office. Used mainly in expressions such as shop talk, closed shop and shop floor.
  5. A variety of classes taught in junior or senior high school that teach vocational skill.
  6. An establishment where a barber or beautician works.
    a barber shop
  7. An act of shopping, especially routine shopping for food and other domestic supplies.
    This is where I do my weekly shop.
  8. (figuratively, uncountable) Discussion of business or professional affairs.

See -wise from Wikipedia:



  1. in the direction or orientation of
    The gaoler slowly turned the key clockwise.
  2. in the manner of
    You need to follow the instructions carefully; otherwise, the project may not turn out.
    Contrariwise, it could be a good idea.
  3. in the matter of; with regard to
    This morning looks promising, weather-wise.
  4. One (thing) at a time
    Add the reagent dropwise to the solution.

The usage is rare in this particular case and is done for humour or a light style.


Without the full context, it's hard to know if it literally means that they began talking about a previously mentioned shop ("shop-wise" meaning "about/related to a shop").

More likely they began "talking shop", which means to talk about the work they have to do.

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