How the once-ridiculed word “finalize” slipped into mainstream American English

“I found the class really impactful.” “I have no bandwidth for this conversation.” “Can you ping me when you’re leaving the house?”

Lovers of the English language cringe when they hear corporate speak seep into everyday conversation. But the jargon-ization of language, it seems, is inevitable.

In the 1960s, the gatekeepers of American English worked themselves into a frenzy over what they deemed a new blight on the language: the word “finalize.” “Finalize” was the “incentivize,” “impactful,” or “leverage” (as verb) of the 1960s, a piece of bureaucratic jargon and source of deep chagrin for language purists. “It’s business-letter English, meaning acceptable and undesirable,” sports writer Red Smith said of such jargon in 1969.

“Finalize” was a new verb that meant agreeing on the final terms of something, without actually finishing it. If two people “finalized” a divorce, it didn’t actually mean the divorce was over. “We finalized the vacation” didn’t mean a trip had taken place. In the 1960s, use of the neologism seemed to create dramatic eye rolls in pedants, the way “-ify” (“Can we list-ify this?”) or the construction “the x for y” (“Tinder for dogs”) might today.

Read more: Quartz

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