Inspiring etymology, and ‘stakeholder’

May 1, 2013

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.

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‘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.