The Grammarphobia Blog

Conceptual arts

Q: In the design community in NYC, the word “concept” is often used as a verb, as in, “Let’s get together and concept about the new product later.” This drives me nuts.

A: I have been spared “concept” as a verb—so far! It’s quite an atrocity, especially since “concept” is weak enough as a noun. What would people getting together to “concept” in fact do? Come up with concepts? No doubt they’re being paid handsomely to do so!

Now that I’ve gotten that out of my system, I should mention that way back when the word “concept” did indeed exist as a verb: it meant to conceive in the womb. Here’s a citation from 1643 in the Oxford English Dictionary: “It [the Soul] is concepted by the woman through the concurrance of the seed of both sexes.”

The noun “concept,” which comes from the Latin concipere (to conceive), has been around since the mid-16th century, according to the OED. It initially meant an idea, an opinion, a fancy, or a frame of mind. But by the mid-20th century, it had been watered down to what the OED describes as “a general notion or idea, esp. in the context of marketing and design.”

As for the verb, spare me from that concept!

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