The number of times the word “exponentially” is used is rising exponentially. It has been this week’s buzzword when describing Covid-19 infections.
Exponentially has several definitions. The sense we’ve seen recently describes a rapid rate of increase, but exponential can also describe a decrease. So to be used correctly, in the opinion of an arch pedant like me, it has to be accompanied by a qualifier telling whether the change is of an upward or downward nature. No one should say “exponential Covid-19 cases”, for instance, thinking this alone describes a rise in cases.
However, at least exponentially is used (most of the time) accurately. The same cannot be said of “epicentre”, the buzziest buzzword of a few weeks ago. It came to mean the centre of the centre, or an infection point of outbreak, which isn’t the word’s meaning at all.
Epicentre, as you and I have previously discussed, is a term that identifies the place on the Earth’s surface directly above an earthquake. I don’t know what seismologists will do now their useful and precise term has been hijacked. They’ll have to invent another word. Poor things.
We’ve always had buzzwords and buzz terms. Think of machine learning, big data, data mining, blockchain – they are all buzzwords. Actually, I have no idea what blockchain means! People use these words to sound clever.
The definition of “buzzword” is: “A word drawn from, or imitative of, technical jargon, often rendered meaningless through abuse by non-technical persons”. What that definition is subtly saying is that anyone who has been bandying “epicentre” or “exponentially” is a poseur.
Buzzwords are intended to impress the easily impressed, but they almost always have a short life. They become overused and lose their power. “Catch-22” was, years ago, a buzz term, but is now so old it has gone to the buzzword graveyard and become a cliché.
I hope “bleeding edge” (the new term for “cutting edge”) will go the same way soon. I think that anyone who says “bleeding edge” should be reported to the police.
Buzzwords are almost always needless. Simple language is the best way to impart information. Newsreaders could say “Covid-19 cases are rising”, or “the centre of the outbreak is – ”. Just give us the facts without overdramatising.
What is really wrong is that TV news shows nowadays think they have to also be entertainment shows. They clearly believe a news bulletin must contain three swooshy computerised graphics per half-hour, and at least one sequence where a reporter stands to the side while the news is shown in bullet-points.
And the opening sequences are too long. I always suspect the artists in the graphics department stamped their foot and insisted they simply must be allowed at least a minute of revolving globes and laser beams arcing over war zones, or they’ll scream and scream until they’re sick!
Word of the week
Multiply by two and a half. EG: “I deserve double, nay sesquiduple, pay for working on this column”.
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