At a conference I recently attended, I kept hearing a word come up in some of the presentations that really got my attention, and not in a good way:
What's a learning? It's apparently more than just the gerund or present participle of the verb "learn." It's so much more! Now, it also means "something
that has been learned," like a building is something that has been built.
Someone might say, for example, "We came away from this social media project with lots of learnings we can share with management."
The only problem is that there's already a word for something one has learned: It's a "lesson." There's even already a buzzword for it: "takeaway." So why
pull a Dr. Frankenstein and assemble a new word from the parts of another?
It seems this trend doesn't bother only me. There's a website dedicated to it, learnings.org, named for the word
that perked my ears up to begin with. The site accepts submissions for the most obnoxious corporate buzzwords out there. I scanned the site's archives to
find eight more words with little to no reason for existing.
The real word: Editing
"Wordsmith" is a great word that characterizes a writer as a craftsman or craftswoman, but if someone in your office says he or she is "wordsmithing" the
text of a brochure or a newsletter, that person probably just doesn't feel like saying he or she is doing a quick copy edit.
The real words: Decision-making, deliberation
The process of parties coming to an agreement over an idea is as old as business itself; why we need to shoehorn an "-ing" onto a perfectly good noun to
describe it now eludes me.
The real words: Catch-up, brief, include
What used to be, "Let's get her on board with this," has become, "We'll onboard her." Usually, that just means briefing the person in question about the
project. It could possibly mean putting the person on a ship or a bus, though. That's a possibility.
The real word: Solve
This word quite simply adds three syllables to the word "solve." That is all it does.
The real word: Well-prepared, a good planner
Calling someone "planful" means he or she often plans ahead. Though there may not be an adjective that specifically means "one who often makes plans,"
sticking with just "a good planner" seems like the better course.
The real words: Brainstorm, strategize, think
The trend of most of these neologisms (with the exception of "onboard") is essentially to take something that's one part of speech—in this case, the noun
"idea"—and convert it into another part of speech—here, a verb—by tacking on a suffix. The English language has plenty of examples of this type of thing,
but there are lots of words for "coming up with ideas." What's the use of another, especially one that just adds two letters to the end of "idea?"
The real words: Define, characterize, depict
The contributor to learnings.org who submitted this word posits that people use words like "dimensionalize" instead of existing words that mean the same
thing as "a way to sound smart and savvy." He also adds that "dimensionalize" is "not a real word in the English language."
The real words: Successful, effective
Often when someone creates a coinage, it's because there isn't a specific word to describe a certain level of, say, performance. "Performant" does the
opposite. It lumps high performance in with just-OK performance. It's a neologism that's less specific than many already-existing words, which seems kind
of odd. Not to mention that you could simply add "or better" to terms like "adequate" to cast the same net.
Any contemptible coinages you'd care to contributionizate
Matt Wilson is a staff writer for Ragan.com.