The Grammarphobia Blog

An “actionable” usage

Q: What’s happening with the word “actionable.” Many people (most recently, Condoleezza Rice) use it frequently to describe something that can be acted upon, but my dictionary says it should describe something that can be grounds for legal action. I hear the first usage in business speak so much that it drives me crazy.

A: The usual definition of “actionable,” which dates from the late 16th century, is subject to legal action, or supplying the grounds for a lawsuit. The more recent meaning (capable of being acted on, as in “actionable information,” or usable, as in “actionable data”) is listed in the Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary as a secondary meaning.

Most other dictionaries that I’ve checked, including the Oxford English Dictionary and The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, don’t list the secondary meaning. So that usage isn’t standard (at least not yet) and it sounds like gobbledygook to me.