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What Our Language Says About Us

Cameron Cushman

Recently, the Oxford English Dictionary released its annual list of new words in the English language. I was struck by how the list reflects the current times in our country, not only in popular culture, but also in our current political and economic climate.

First, these new words are clearly a reflection of our society doing more and more things online. Terms like social media, paywall and freemium all represent new models for using the internet to do business. Most of these were created by entrepreneurs. They also represent tools that many entrepreneurs utilize to develop, market and sell their products and services.   

Several of the new words represent terms we learned in the most recent financial crisis. Deleveraging, overleveraged and quantitative easing were no doubt prevalent terminology in the financial services sector, but the crisis brought this vernacular into the mainstream. Words like staycation and bargainous represent the response of many Americans affected by the crisis. Higher unemployment, lower incomes and more uncertain futures led many to cut costs and scale back their spending.

The part about this list that I find most instructive are the words that would not exist but for entrepreneurs. If facebook had not been created, we wouldn’t know the meaning of defriend. If Twitter didn’t exist, tweetups wouldn’t be in the dictionary. Defining your exit strategy wouldn’t be in the public discourse. I think these new words are indicative of the continual increase of the importance of entrepreneurship in our culture. Entrepreneurs birth the new and we humans have to come up with new words to describe the innovations, tools and services that we never knew we needed before.

Now that I am past the point of being accused of being a microblogger, I wonder what new words entrepreneurs will be responsible for coining in the future? I’m guessing it will be many new words we never knew we needed before.

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