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whilst sitting at a desk
'Lunches usually consist of cold sandwiches consumed al desko.'The Washington PostJanuary 1981
The quote above is among the earliest citations of this adverb, used in an article discussing the intensive working practices of White House secretaries. The term has been popularised during the last two or three years in response to changed lifestyles and the impact of the Internet in the 21st century. Even if we are not working through our lunch breaks, we may want to consume our lunch al desko whilst surfing the Web, as we, for example, shop, book a holiday, read the news, or check the train times.
21st century demand for convenience foods … has given rise to a proliferation of new words and phrases for food on-the-go
Al desko is of course an innovative play on the word alfresco, an adverb derived from the Italian, meaning 'in the fresh air'. This word also has an adjectival use, as in an alfresco meal, and conceivably we could use al desko in a similar way, e.g. an al desko lunch/supper.
The 21st century demand for convenience foods which can be eaten whilst undertaking other daily rituals has given rise to a proliferation of new words and phrases for food on-the-go. Deskfast is a portmanteau word (i.e. a word formed from a combination of two others) meaning 'breakfast whilst sitting at a desk, place of work, etc.' Similarly, a carfast refers to 'a breakfast eaten whilst driving to work'. Dashboard dining is a generic term for the practice of eating any meal whilst driving, and someone who does this is a dashboard diner.
Convenience food manufacturers are responding to consumer demand by attempting to deliver no-think food or one-handed food — products which require no utensils and do not drip or crumble, and can therefore be eaten whilst working, driving or holding a baby. The term cup-holder cuisine also relates to food which is intended to be eaten whilst driving, usually packaged in containers designed to fit into the cup-holder slots in many car interiors.
This article was first published on 2nd June 2003.