The power of vocabulary

I learned that the process of new words entering common vocabulary is called “lexicalization” today.

When designing a new program, you are forced to come up with names for everything on the backend. Those names then tend to bleed into to common usage among the team, even though there might not be any particular reason to be consistent. For example, at Justin.tv, since we designed the system around streams of live video, we ended up with Users and Channels. When we started saving video for playback later, we naturally called these videos Archives. Now, when we talk about video, we talk about archived vs live, all because of the names we picked to describe objects in the database six years ago.

In a startup, many things are changing all the time. You are constantly adding new objects to the system or are forced to come up with new processes for new situations. These new objects and processes all need names so you can communicate around them with the team. At Exec, we say an Exec is “on deck” if they are the next up for a job. If we need more Execs on the system at the moment, we say we need to “scramble up some people” or “get some people decked up.”

Not all new language is functional. Some idioms enter the vocabulary by chance. At Exec we say “that’s how you get ants!” whenever anyone leaves food out because we love Archer. We say we’ve got “jobs on jobs on jobs” when a lot of job requests come in, from the phrase stacks on stacks on stacks.

I like creating new words and phrases. I have an obsessive personality and often times will start saying a phrase over and over until people around me start adopting it. Lately, my go-to has been: “Boom! It’s that simple” (used to describe Exec).

I think having a unique vocabulary has a positive effect towards group cohesiveness. The words you use affect the way you tend to frame your thoughts – everyone using the same words can create a foundation for everyone being on the same page.

 
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