Inspiring etymology, and ‘stakeholder’

I have two new posts up at Macmillan Dictionary Blog. Inspiring etymology is a brief survey of breath-related words and phrases, anatomical and metaphorical, including the familiar constellation of terms arising from spirare:

Both inspiration and expiration originate in Latin spirare “breathe”, with the prefixes in- and ex- specifying the particular action. Both are related to spirit, from Latin spiritus “breath”: this too came from spirare, as did perspiration, respirator and conspiracy. . . .

In these related terms there is great variety along the literal–figurative continuum. Sometimes we see it even in the same word: aspiration can refer either to wishes or, more concretely, to audible breath. If you’re aiming for a certain linguistic register, you might aspire to aspirate your (h)aitches.

In the comments there’s an interesting discussion about related words in other languages and contexts.


‘Stakeholder’ stakes a claim looks at a word made recently popular:

Many of the words that commonly modify stakeholders – such as various, different, multiple, diverse, and a range of – convey the breadth of views that have to be taken into account with regard to some organisation or development. Other collocating adjectives, such as key, relevant and major, indicate a hierarchy of involvement . . . .

A Google Ngram graph of the word in singular and plural forms shows how recent is its growth in popularity: hardly ever used until the late 1970s, at which point it rose steadily for a decade and then climbed even more rapidly. The Corpus of Historical American English shows a similar curve: no tokens at all from 1800 to 1980, then a sudden surge.

Words that develop sudden widespread usage tend to attract critics, and stakeholder is no exception, as the post shows. But based on texts I’ve read or edited over the years, I think it’s a useful addition to the general vocabulary and is certain to consolidate its niche(s).

You can also read older articles in my Macmillan Dictionary Blog archive.

3 Responses to Inspiring etymology, and ‘stakeholder’

  1. wisewebwoman says:

    “Aspirate” was a word used a lot when I was young, particularly as we struggled with the Irish language.

    I can never quite get the imagery of a gold panner grubbing around in dry river beds when I hear the term “stakeholder”. Try as I might to give him (always him) a three piece suit.


  2. alexmccrae1546 says:

    As Vlad the Impaler was wont to say, “Give me a good stake and I’m happy.” (Groan)

    @WWW—When I conjure up gold panners of old, the term “grubstake” immediately comes to mind.

    Merriam Webster/ online defines “grubstake” as “supplies or funds furnished a mining prospector on promise of a share of his discoveries”. A cut of the action, to put it bluntly.

    The phrase stake-ones-claim also comes to mind in this context.

    So technically a ‘grubstaked’ miner is, indeed, a legitimate “stakeholder”, no matter how things ultimately pan out.

    Your image of a gold prospector all decked out in a three piece suit, vest and all, provided a nice flight into fancy there. Admittedly, our standard image of a “stakeholder” is a guy in a spiffy Wall St. get-up; the typical shareholder/ financier, dealing in commodities, bonds, or equities. Not the hands-on, out-in-the-river, hip-booted ‘gold digger’.

  3. Stan says:

    WWW: Aspirate started off with speech-related meanings for me too, then later I learned of the figurative sense. I like how it has retained both.

    Alex: Vlad had more good stakes than were good for him (or, more to the point, than were good for his enemies).

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