Jargon du Jour

Some days, I live in a world of hurt. Some meetings, conference calls, and academic papers are too much for me to take. My name is Simone, and I am jargon-sensitive.

Firecrackers. Bio-break. Grasstops. Fireballs[1]. Realtime. Synergy. Deep Dive. Gamechangers, and their ancestral Paradigm Shifts. Leverage. Sustainable. Animert.[2]

Words like these hurt me. When I say them, I feel dirty. (I say them anyway, sometimes, because other people in my professional space expect to hear them.) When I hear them, it’s worse than nails-on-a-chalkboard; it’s like stepping barefoot on a tiny piece of glass.

A few months ago I was exposed to the word “exnovation”, and it literally made my palms sweat with linguistic consternation. It was used in the sense of “to improve something by removing outdated or superfluous features”—a process I applaud. It’s the word I have a problem with. Let’s take a look at the pieces (with some help from the Etymological Dictionary):

innovate (v.) Look up innovate at Dictionary.com 1540s, “introduce as new,” from L. innovatus, pp. of innovare “to renew, restore; to change,” from in- “into” (see in- (2)) + novus “new” (see new). Meaning “make changes in something established” is from 1590s. Related: Innovated; innovating.

in- (2) Look up in- at Dictionary.com Element meaning “into, in, on, upon” (also im-, il-, ir- by assimilation of -n- with following consonant), from L. in- “in” (see in). In O.Fr. this often became en-, which usually was respelled in English to conform with Latin, but not always, which accounts for pairs like enquire/inquire. There was a native form, which in W.Saxon usually appeared as on- (cf. O.E. onliehtan “to enlighten”), and some verbs survived into M.E. (cf. inwrite “to inscribe”), but all now seem to be extinct. Not related to in- (1) “not,” which also was a common prefix in Latin: to the Romans impressus could mean “pressed” or “unpressed.”

ex- Look up ex- at Dictionary.com Prefix, in English meaning mainly “out of, from,” but also “upwards, completely, deprive of, without,” and “former;” from L. ex “out of, from within,” from PIE *eghs “out” (cf. Gaul. ex-, O.Ir. ess-, O.C.S. izu, Rus. iz). In some cases also from Greek cognate ex, ek. PIE *eghs had comparative form *eks-tero and superlative *eks-t(e)r-emo-.

So, following these pieces, we see that “innovation” means “the process of imbuing something with newness”, and thus can parse “exnovation” as “to remove or expel newness”. I don’t think that is what the coiner (apparently A Sandeep, or so his blog states) meant. I think he meant “edit” or “improve” or “iterate”, all of which are words that cause me no central nervous system distress.

I don’t mind people coining new words for new ideas (like “meme”, which will probably get a post of its own eventually). In the case of “exnovate”, my objection is to the disregard for venerable prefixes.

[1] “Fireball” hits my jargon-nerve only when used to mean “fans” or “champions”—that is, “People who are on our side, and are vocal about it, and may attract more people to our cause”. I like the word “fireball” when it denotes big globs of flaming pitch, dragon-breath, explosions, meteors, or cinnamon-flavored jawbreakers.

[2] Honorable Mention: After years of it being common parlance, “webinar” is now just below my pain threshhold, thanks in part to the comparative horror of “eSeminar”.