Ideation and Ideating

I wasn’t paying much attention to the television, but when I heard a guest on an MSNBC broadcast say ideation, it grabbed my attention. The exact quote was There is a lot of ideation out there.

I’m not sure of the topic that was being discussed, but that shouldn’t matter. Many of us latch onto non-words, incorrectly used words, or trendy words with unclear meanings with regularity; however, we usually know what the speaker intended to say. With that in mind, it’s clear that the guest was trying to say There is a lot of…wait, I have no idea what the guest was trying to say.

I was so confused about the potential meaning of the sentence that I went to to see if I could find a definition for ideation, which I assumed was a trendy, newly invented non-word. (Remember, dictionaries are often a reflection of usage, not of correct grammar, so there are instances when non-words appear in a dictionary, especially online dictionaries.) Imagine my surpise when the listing in stated that the word ideation has been around since approximately 1820. Ideation (and for that matter, ideating) has been around for nearly 200 years.

Ideation is clearly not a word that is commonly used, and its original definition was the process of forming new ideas or images, so now it makes complete sense. The MSNBC guest was trying to say There is a lot of the process of forming new ideas out there. Wait, that still makes little sense, at least to me. It sounds convoluted and confusing.  

Even though these words (ideation and ideating) have existed for generations, they have not been used with any regularity for a very long time, similar to words such as thee and thou. I think it’s clear that ideation and ideating are now trendy new words being used in a new way. In the IBM commercial (IBM Gets It), people ideating are people who are thinking. In the MSNBC example, ideation is being used to mean thinking of new ideas.

It’s the humble opinion of this language expert (meaning that you might not agree) that the words ideating and ideation, which will undoubtedly become very popular in the coming months and years, are newly invented trendy words that happen to have been used in the past. Those who have revived the words most likely had no knowledge of their previous existence, but since they were used in the past, the words will likely be accepted more readily. I believe, though, that unless we’re ready to bring back thee and thou, they don’t have much place in today’s language except as a trend.


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