The Grammarphobia Blog

Much ado about “doable”

Q: Would you comment on the overuse of the word “doable”? I hear it all the time. Also, why do people coin a new word like that when there are plenty of older ones around that can do the job? How about “achievable,” “attainable,” “conceivable,” “possible,” “viable,” and “workable”?

A: I do agree that “doable” (meaning able to be done) is vastly overused, and often there’s a better alternative. In addition to the ones you mention, “practicable” and “feasible” come to mind.

In its defense I should mention that “doable” is not a recent coinage. Believe it or not, this adjective has been in use for well over five centuries. The Oxford English Dictionary cites published references that go back to 1449. The noun “doer” (meaning one who does) is even older, with the earliest published reference from the 1300s.

So yes, “doable” is overused. But it’s a legitimate usage and still with us after all these centuries, probably because none of the alternatives have exactly the same meaning.