Is it appropriate to use the term "smoking department" to describe a specific area of the train where smoking is permitted? I saw the expression "smoking department" on a train in China. I would like to know if it is authentic among native English speakers. Thank you.

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    Smoking compartment in Australia. The signs used to say SMOKING or NON SMOKING. I don't remember whether the latter was hyphenated.
    – Peter
    Aug 25, 2023 at 3:16
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    Back before smoking was banned on all domestic flights in the US, planes would have “smoking sections, which were groups of rows in which smoking was permitted. I don’t remember what the corresponding arrangements were on passenger trains, but it likely consisted of setting aside designated “smoking cars.” In any event, department would not be an idiomatic way to express the idea you’re asking about. Aug 25, 2023 at 3:22
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    As @Peter says, compartment, not department. Probably a translation issue for the close meanings of the two. (Compare compartmentalize, more literal, and departmentalize, more abstract.) Aug 25, 2023 at 3:55
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    It would be "Smoking compartment" in the old kind of train where the carriage was divided into self-contained compartments each with typically 6 or 8 seats. By the time smoking was banned on all trains in the UK, compartment stock had virtually disappeared, and smoking was typically allowed in one carriage of the train, which would be referred to as a "smoking carriage". Aug 26, 2023 at 18:20
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    No; 'smoking department' should only ever be used in English to refer to an academic or commercial department concerned with smoking… how could that fit your query? Can you cite two or three examples, was this a contrived example, or what? Aug 27, 2023 at 22:28

3 Answers 3


No, "smoking department" would not be idiomatic English.

As Yosef noted in his comment, this was probably a translation error confusing "department" with "compartment". The two words sound a lot alike so I can see how one would make that mistake.

A "department" is a sub-group within an organization. Like you might talk about a corporation having a "marketing department" or a "legal department". Or the US government has the "commerce department", the "defense department", etc.

A "compartment" is a section of a vehicle that is separated off from the rest. For example, if a train has separate "rooms" for different classes of passengers or private rooms that passengers can pay for, these are called "compartments". Airplanes are routinely divided into the "first class compartment" and the "economy class compartment". Etc. In the US it is illegal to smoke on trains, but I understand that when it was legal (before my time!) there were "smoking compartments" for people who wanted to smoke, to keep them separate from those who didn't want the smell of cigarette smoke.

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    One of the major problems with smoking compartments on trains in those days when smoking was still allowed was that many smokers disregarded the smoking boundaries, and would smoke in the non-smoking areas. Enforcement of the policies was difficult. This may be one of the factors which led to banning smoking altogether on public transportation.
    – Biblasia
    Aug 25, 2023 at 5:16
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    Another common term would be "smoking section."
    – trlkly
    Aug 25, 2023 at 12:27
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    @Graffito An ozonator can banish the smell of the smoke in a matter of hours, even with cloth-covered furniture. Just don't be in the room (it can damage the lungs) with high-ozone concentrations!
    – Biblasia
    Aug 25, 2023 at 13:28
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    @dan04 I read an article years ago about the Hindenburg that said that the smoking room was carefully designed to keep fumes and heat separate from the hydrogen so it wouldn't endanger the aircraft. I suppose in general the passenger compartments would be designed to keep out the hydrogen. Even without smoking, I wouldn't want to walk around in a room full of hydrogen. Can't be good for you.
    – Jay
    Aug 26, 2023 at 4:28
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    @Barmar I'd definitely give you "cabin". More common than "compartment". I'd quibble over "section".
    – Jay
    Aug 26, 2023 at 20:44

It should be smoking "compartment."

If the word "department" were used, it implies an organizational division, such as a biology department at a university, or a men's clothing department in a department store.

"Compartment" would be used for a contained space, such as that of a train car. In a restaurant within a building, a smoking "section" would be more appropriate, and out-of-doors the word "area" might be preferred.

When one does not properly understand the words, it is easy to find the wrong analogue in a dictionary--a common source of humor for traveling English speakers.

  • For "the word area is more likely to be used to describe an outdoor area than an enclosed area", is there any possible authoritative reference? Or is this a convention among native English speakers? Just want to be sure.
    – Jax
    Sep 1, 2023 at 12:25
  • @Jax That actually comes from my childhood memories. Smoking is now banned most everywhere, and I have not seen a designated smoking area in decades.
    – Biblasia
    Sep 1, 2023 at 19:11

I read this question in the HNQ and immediately thought of the phrase as describing a department in a large company, that is staffed primarily by older people.

A company might have an Accounting department, marketing department, legal department, or more-specialised groups like "international regulations compliance department"

Smoking is slowly falling out of favour as generations age, so the older generations, those close to retirement age, are more likely to smoke than the younger people.

And so I would take "smoking department" as a derogatory phrase describing all the older workers, who perhaps have been in the company for decades, who still do things "the old way" like smoking or renting VHS tapes or similar.

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    It is an interesting point to analyse the expression from this perspective.
    – Jax
    Aug 30, 2023 at 11:51

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