The Grammarphobia Blog

The birth of a notion

Q: At the place I work, people are fond of using nonwords like “concepting,” “solutioning,” and “stakeholdering.” I find this practice pretentious. Do you agree, or am I witnessing the miracle of wording?

A: We checked eight standard dictionaries in the US and the UK, and none of them include “concept,” “solution,” or “stakeholder” as verbs.

However, a bit of googling suggests that tens of thousands of people are happily concepting, solutioning, or stakeholdering, never mind the dictionaries.

We’re with you on this. We find these words (we wouldn’t call them “nonwords”) affected, stilted, and clunky.

The first two, though, have some history on their side, according to the Oxford English Dictionary.

The OED describes “concept” as an obsolete or rare verb meaning “to conceive (in the womb).”

The dictionary has only one published example of this usage, from a 1643 treatise by Richard Overton on the mortality of man: “It [the Soul] is concepted by the woman through the concurrance of the seed of both sexes.”

The OED has two late 19th-century examples for “solution” used as a verb meaning “to treat with, fasten or secure by, a solution”:

1891: A further improvement … will dispense with the need for solutioning the canvas,” from the Pall Mall Gazette.

1898: “They should preferably not be vulcanised but merely solutioned together,” from Cycling (now Cycling Weekly).

Of course the people using “concept” and “solution” as verbs today aren’t talking about wombs or fasteners. To them, “concept” means to develop a concept (that is, to give birth to a notion), and “solution” means to find a solution.

Oxford doesn’t have any examples of “stakeholder” used as a verb.

It says the word entered English in the early 18th century as a noun meaning “an independent person or organization with whom money is deposited, esp. when a number of people make a bet or other financial transaction.”

It wasn’t until the early 19th century that the word took on its usual modern meaning: “A person, company, etc., with a concern or (esp. financial) interest in ensuring the success of an organization, business, system, etc.”

The first OED citation, from an 1821 issue of the Times of London, refers to “stakeholders in one system of liberty, property, laws, morals, and national prosperity.”

The earliest clearly financial example is from a 1941 issue of The Journal of Political Economy:

“Trustees were released from nearly all liability through use of ‘exculpatory’ clauses in trust indentures and became virtually ‘custodians’ or ‘stakeholders’ rather than true ‘trustees.’ ”

Getting back to your question, we’ve got Excedrin headaches from plodding through business gobbledygook for instances of “stakeholder” used as a verb.

Here’s a typical example: “The use of Moody’s KMV data was stakeholdered and ultimately approved by FERC in CAISO’s 2006 Tariff change.”

As far as we can tell, this buzzword means to get the support of stockholders (or other interested parties) in a new idea or project.

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