Sunday, January 06, 2008

Word of the Week

Given today’s date -- and the fact that the idea of having a regular blog posting called Word of the Week came to me today -- I’m tempted to choose epiphany for the word … but that seems a bit self-serving.

Instead, for the premier Word of the Week posting, I’m choosing: subprime. Before continuing – and believing in giving credit where credit is due -- I don’t mind admitting that I got this whole idea after reading an article about the American Dialect Society’s (ADS’s) choice of subprime as its 2007 Word of the Year. According to its press release, “subprime is an adjective used to describe a risky or less than ideal loan, mortgage or investment”.

While I think the ADS’s choice is inspired -- anyone paying any attention to the news in at least the last quarter of 2007 would surely have read or heard the word -- I choose it for reasons that are different from the ADS’s.

I think subprime deserves attention because it’s a great example of a word that, though repeated almost daily, is rarely explained, which, as a communications specialist, drives me crazy. When the word first started gaining popularity, I began wondering what it meant. As a lawyer and a consultant with clients in the financial services industry, I have passing familiarity with things like the prime interest rate and I kind of thought there must be some correlation between prime rates and subprime. But, all I could do was guess at what the term might mean. It took quite awhile before I finally found a (long) business article that explained what the term meant -- and, quite frankly, I was so surprised by the explanation, I feel even stronger that anyone using the word in business writing should take the time to explain it!

So, I’m choosing subprime as the first ever Word of the Week because it’s the type of word that business folks and business reporters often use with little or no explanation, leaving readers feeling ignorant or wondering whether the person using the term even really knows what it means …


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