Of storming brains and meliorat…

“Let’s brainstorm over lunch.”

Today this usually means meeting up and thinking of ways to solve a problem – creativity, ideas, that sort of thing.

Mention this before the 1930s, and it would elicit a very different reaction.

Because, according to the 1934 edition of the Unabridged dictionary, brainstorm meant only “a violent, transient mental derangement manifested in a maniacal outburst; popularly, any transitory agitation or confusion of mind.”

The Oxford English Dictionary also includes in its definition “a sudden and severe attack of mental illness” and “an epileptic seizure,” then adds to the negative impression of the word with “a temporary loss of reason, a serious error of judgment.” The Funk and Wagnall’s dictionary of 1913 defined it as “impulsive insanity.”

Brainstorm was also used for a time as a verb meaning “to have a confused, deranged, or violent outburst,” but this use isn’t recorded in any dictionary. Here is an example that makes unflattering reference to President Theodore Roosevelt:

It is argued that the president is given to handling many details—all strenuously; that the stress and fret of public life, lived under high nervous pressure, have exhausted him, until his friends find him “brain-storming,” and can only feel sorry for the wreck of what was once a great man.
—The Evening Herald [Ottowa, KS], 10 April 1907

It’s only after the 1930s that brainstorming changed course and came to mean a flash of inspiration, before it was (and still is) done to death in the corporate world, where people “touch bases” (lol) and “brainstorm” over “pain points”.

So brainstorming made the trip from being a violent outburst of derangement, to a sudden bright idea – an amelioration of kinds.

Which brings me to amelioration, which is another term for meliorate, from late Latin meliorat- ‘improved’ from the verb meliorare, based on melior ‘better’.

I hope that this post has in some small way, “meliorared” your vocabulary a little. And vocabulary? Comes from the Latin ‘vocabularium’, which means ‘a list of words’. It also has Latin roots, the word ‘vocabulum’, which means ‘word, name, noun’, the root ‘vocare’, which means ‘to name, call’.

I could go on and on..so let’s just stop here and see you tomorrow!