Sunday, April 27, 2008

Word of the Week: ideation

I had never heard of the word ideation until this week. (Truth be told, I didn’t think it was a real word.)

The word was used in a PowerPoint presentation made by an advertising agency in a pitch to create a seminar for a client. (The fact that the word was used by someone in advertising is part of the reason I thought the word was suspect. Or, at best, I thought perhaps it was a new word -- one that might, eventually, take hold and become part of the pop culture -- like Steven Colbert’s “truthiness” did a couple years ago -- but I doubted that ideation had already achieved that status.)

Here’s the sentence in which the word was used:

[Ad Agency] has developed ideation around a multi-format, interactive approach for the workshop.

On reading that and wondering about the word, naturally I looked it up. Here’s‘s definition of ideation: “the capacity for or the act of forming or entertaining ideas"

After reading the definition I went back to the sentence in which the word was used. I think the ad agency misused ideation. Surely the ad agency didn’t mean it had “developed” the capacity for the act of forming or entertaining ideas. (After all, don’t you think clients figure that folks working at an ad agency already have the capacity to form or create ideas?)

I think the ad agency simply wanted to say it had creative ideas for presenting the workshop -- and ideation (a word that contains the word “idea”) must have sounded good to them. To me, it sounded ridiculous (and worse, it made me question the agency's ability).

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Word of the Week: gadget

I love dictionaries to begin with, but every now and then I come across a definition that is so simple, and yet so apt, that I am awestruck. That happened to me this week when I looked up gadget.

Before I tell you the dictionary definition of gadget, let me tell you about the conversation that caused me to look it up. A friend and I were at a café and someone jogged by. My friend noticed that the runner had something on her arm and I speculated that it might be a heart rate monitor. My friend hadn’t heard of such monitors (other than those used in hospitals) so I explained the little I know about them.

Despite my positive comments about them for training purposes, my friend dismissed it as a mere gadget. That launched us into a discussion of what constitutes a gadget. After some back and forth we pretty much agreed that a gadget might be handy, but it isn’t necessarily necessary.

When I got home, I was curious about the definition, so I looked it up. Well, here's how defines gadget: “an often small mechanical or electronic device with a practical use but often thought of as a novelty”. BINGO! (Use of the phrase"thought of" strikes me as bang on because that makes the test subjective. In other words, with a gadget, the novelty aspect is in the eye of the user. Too true...)

Anyway, heart rate monitor aside, doesn’t the simplicity of that definition just take your breath away? Bravo!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Word of the Week: gormless

Today’s Toronto Star had a review of Dan Ariely’s book “Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces that Shape our Decisions”. The reviewer gave a bit of background about the author -- apparently Ariely is a professor of behavioural economics at MIT -- and set forth the book’s premise.

As I was reading the favourable review, my interest in the book was growing, until I came across these two paragraphs in the review:

Predictably Irrational abounds with other eye-opening examples of irrational human behaviour. Ariely demonstrates the kryptonite-like pull of "free" goods by bartering chocolate bars with children trick-or-treating at his door.

Their gormlessness is endearing, but your average 5-year-old apparently fares no worse than adults when it comes to a slavish desire to get something for nothing, even if the "something" we get is less than what we have -- or worse, something we don't need.

After reading that last paragraph my attention immediately went from Ariely’s book to the question of what “gormless” means -- and, equally importantly – to wondering why the reviewer use that word.

After getting over my irritation at the diversion of my attention away from the topic at hand (Ariely’s book), I managed to finish reading the review and I jotted the book’s title down to order it from the library. After that, my annoyance with the reviewer returned as I went to look up gormless.

According to, gormless means: lacking intelligence: stupid.

I don’t mind learning new words, but I couldn’t help think that by using a word I have to look up (not to mention one that made me feel -- well, in the words of the reviewer -- gormless) all the reviewer accomplished was to distract and irritate me, which I doubt was her (or the newspaper’s) intention.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Word of the Week: play

I went to a presentation this week by a marketing/communications specialist. The audience was business communication specialists -- mainly writers and designers.

The speaker was telling us about work he did for a group of investors. At one point he said, “It was exciting because often, mid-way through a project, there’d be a shift and, for example, it might go from a straight condo deal to a condo/hotel play.”

I’ve worked for clients in the finance industry so I’ve heard “play” used in that way -- it’s sort of a hip way of describing a deal or transaction. I wondered, however, whether most of the folks in this particular audience understood the jargon.

The speaker didn’t explain the term and no one questioned him about it. I suspect people didn’t ask because they got the gist of the story (which was that he found the pace challenging and the fact that things often changed mid-stream interesting) and so they didn’t really care whether they were 100% sure of his use of the word.

I decided to make “play” word of the week because this story shows how a word that everyone knows can be jargon. I think it was ok for the speaker to use the jargon without defining it in this case for two reasons: because understanding the term wasn’t critical to understanding what he was talking about and because the presentation was pretty informal. But, if he had been my client and he had written the sentence in something to be given to the same audience, I’d have urged him not to use “play” because there was no reason to use jargon.