Quick, define “memorialize.” If you said “to preserve the memory of a deceased person,” you are correct—unless you’re speaking contemporary Corporatese. In my latest Visual Thesaurus column, “Weird Words from the Corporatese Lexicon,” I provide a translation service.
Note, please, that my “weird words” are not the clichés everyone loves to hate: no “value-added,” no “low-hanging fruit,” no “level playing field.” (I’ve written about those terms previously.) Instead, I look at words with double meanings: one for the corporate cognoscenti and one for civilians. The list includes actionable, agile, cadence, conquesting, socialize, and the aforementioned memorialize.
Full access is behind a paywall; here’s an excerpt:
Confusing real-world example: “Our team produced a lot of actionable ideas during the offsite.”
Legal definition: Meeting the legal requirements to file a lawsuit. (A bad thing.) For example, West’s Encyclopedia of American Law tells us that an assault is an actionable tort. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, this legal definition entered the English lexicon in the late 16th century. Even BusinessDictionary.com gives this definition—and this definition only—for the word.
Corporatese definition: Capable of being put into practice in the near future; useful, practical. (A good thing.) This usage no doubt owes its currency to business schools; the Oxford English Dictionary provides a 1966 citation in Management Science (“A plan is a set of actionable decisions which has been selected from among a number of alternative sets”) as well as later citations from business and medical sources. But I was surprised to discover that the earliest nonlegal usage of “actionable” dates back to a 1913 book called The New Housekeeping: Efficiency Studies in Home Management, written by a Mrs. Christine Frederick, who’s identified on the title page as a “household efficiency engineer and kitchen architect.”
Postscript: Once I’d found out about Christine McGaffey Frederick, I wanted to learn more. My research revealed that in her day she was a “consumer celebrity,” according to this Library of Congress entry. Born in Boston in 1883, she married a business executive, Justus George Frederick, in 1907 and moved to New York, where she began a career as a home economist, lecturer, and author. A research paper in Radcliffe Institute’s Schlesinger Library goes on to report:
She and her husband helped found the Advertising Women of New York in 1912, because women were refused admission to the men's advertising club. She campaigned for more efficiency in the kitchen, arguing that women ought to have more efficient equipment and experiment with improved techniques just as businessmen and farmers were doing. To test her theories, CMF set up and directed a model kitchen, the Applecroft Home Experiment Station, on Long Island. She was credited with bringing about the standardization of the height of kitchen counters and work surfaces, and with encouraging the design of kitchens to save steps for the women using them. CMF lectured on the Chautauqua curcuit [sic], 1917; was a contributing or consulting editor for several magazines (including Ladies Home Journal, The Designer, Shrine, and The American Weekly), 1912-1948; wrote several books on household management and the role of women as consumers; and raised four children . . . . In 1950 she moved to Laguna Beach, California and began a new career as an interior decorator and instructor at Orange Coast College, retiring in 1957(?).
Mrs. Frederick died in 1970, at age 87. It wasn’t until 2003 that the first (and apparently only) biography of her was published, Selling Mrs. Consumer: Christine Frederick and the Rise of Household Efficiency.
Selling Mrs. Consumer was also the name of Mrs. Frederick’s magnum opus, published in 1929. It was dedicated to Herbert Hoover.