Fringe benefits vs. perks

 

Q:

I wonder if these two vocabulary items—fringe benefits and perks—have the same connotation in English? Can they be used in the same contexts?

Vera
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A:

The definitions in the Collins COBUILD indicate that these two phrases, fringe benefits and perks, can be used interchangeably (an example in both is "a car.")

The American Heritage Dictionary (p. 728) defines fringe benefit as "an employment benefit given in addition to one's wages or salary."

It defines perk as "a perquisite" and lists its usage as "informal." (Quotation marks here and later for "informal" are mine.)

On page 1350, the dictionary defines "perquisite" as "a payment of profit received in addition to a regular wage or salary, especially a benefit 'expected' as one's due." (Quotation marks here and later for "expected" are mine.)

I think the key words here in the definitions of perk and "perquisite" are "informal" and "expected." There is no doubt that perk is informal; it would never appear in a serious written document, while fringe benefit might.

Also, a fringe benefit would be defined, and it would be established throughout a company. It could include discounts on purchases on the company's products, for example, or the right to park (even if you have to purchase a parking sticker) in the company's parking lot. A perk, on the other hand, is less well defined; it is something expected by people with certain privilege in the company. Perks might include a reserved parking space, or a corner office with a view, or membership in a private club. Perks would probably not be defined in writing.

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