The Birth of Words

Freshen Your Phrasing in 2016

In the Death of Words, I listed my top 10 candidates for the vocabulary dustbin. Now that we’ve made some room in our brains, let’s welcome my top 10 new words and phrases for the second half of 2016.

What were my criteria? The word or phrase had to sound new and fresh, but not unfamiliar or forced, like those odd names for conglomerates. It had to be easy to say, vivid, and just memorable enough to encourage others to adopt it as their own. Lastly, it had to be useful. It needed to replace a worn-out synonym or stake out some fresh ground in our lexis landscape.

To find my new top 10, I scanned dozens of master vocabulary lists for everything from spelunking to cosmology and tested them out in meetings and conversations with unsuspecting colleagues and friends. Some terms that I liked — hoarfrost and homosphere — simply died in mid-air like virga, rain that evaporates before it hits the ground. Others clearly connected.

Let the word games begin.

10. Cairn: This Celtic word for a pile of stones used to mark a trail is a fresh replacement for milestone, which is starting to roll down the hill to anachronism. Where are the cairns? Say that in a meeting and heads will turn, first quizzically, then in a good way.

9. Draft or Drafter: A great cycling term, it translates well to the business world — and almost everywhere else. When you take the lead and battle the headwinds, the drafters are conserving their energy by hanging close behind. Turn sideways every now and then and blow them away.

8. Alan Smithee: This is the pseudonym directors once used when their films were so altered by others that they no longer wanted to be associated with the work. There are plenty of projects over which we lose control. Reassign the bungled messes to Alan Smithee.

7. LNT: A backpacker’s acronym for Leave No Trace, this can be incorporated into everything from the dinner dishes and meeting detritus to bureaucratic intrigue. Clearly not a favorite of Ayn Rand hero types, it fits well with the more collectivist, web-of-life ethic that is beginning to emerge.

6. Bench work: Admittedly a confusing addition to those who work in laboratory environments, this bowling term is stealthy shorthand for ideas, conversations, or actions that psych-out opponents. It may be time to strike.

5. Cloud deck: This is an antidote to all those who keep going “down in the weeds.” Staying above the cloud deck suggests that you are taking a high and long view of the world, where you can see clearly and far. The term might also serve as a welcome replacement for that creaky cliché — the 30,000-foot-level.

4. Evolved star: This astronomical term for a star that has used up most of its fuel and is at the end of its life cycle is far better choice than those mean-spirited alternatives: has been and washed up. Being an evolved star sounds regal and allows one’s dimming light to be recognized for its enduring warmth.

3. Fall through the ropes: To have something “fall through the cracks” is a common expression — and an occasional excuse — particularly among those who lose sight of details. Fall through the ropes is not a weaseling “oops” term designed to deflect. It is, instead, a transparent admission designed to acknowledge honesty in defeat. It means you got knocked out of the ring, or you would like to do the same to a rival.

2. Power 10: In a close race, rowers know that when they hear the call for a Power 10 they dig deep for 10 of their best and most powerful strokes. Given the teamwork and collaboration that is becoming our deadline-driven, workplace norm, Power 10 should move into the lexicon quickly and deservedly.

1. Bootsy: An emerging word from Oakland, California, the capital of urban slang, it means beyond terrible. As new words go, it has the perfect ring of the familiar-turned-sassy, and with everything from the global climate to presidential politics turning sour, there will be innumerable ways to weave it into the conversation. But as bootsy transitions from the streets to the conference room, use it sparingly. Otherwise your ham-handed expression will be an example to why the word was created in the first place.

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