Dimensionalize

Submitted Anonymously

Anonymous writes:
As far as I can tell, the word is meant to convey the need to give a sense of the size or scope of the benefits an organization or groups of them provide, as in the good nonprofits do for society.

Tony responds:
Oh, man, that’s a beaut. I have to admit, though, I’m at a loss to think of a ready synonym. Though the word is surpassingly ugly, it does seem to have some value, in that it evokes an idea that otherwise takes several words to pin down.

A lot of “ize” words aren’t like that; they’re just pseudo-scientific stand-ins for ordinary ideas (e.g., “prioritize”=”rank”; “utilize”=”use”; “conceptualize”=”think”). But there are a few cases where “ize” coinages may be fairly useful. Look how popular “Balkanize” has become — it may even have the side benefit of reminding Americans of what the hell the Balkans are. Even when the “ize” words aren’t great, they sometimes have the one redeeming virtue of most jargon: they conjure a complex thought in a single word. “Dimensionalize” can probably make that claim.

Still, to avoid such a clownishly ugly coinage, I would argue strongly for using the longer phrase “measure the dimensions of” rather than sink to “dimensionalize.” And my argument wouldn’t be solely on aesthetic grounds, either. Using plainer words also forces you to be more specific. Once you make a writer search for a normal English verb to accompany this idea, you compel a choice among various different approaches to the question of dimension: Are you talking about measuring it with some kind of numbers? Describing it in words? Making it vivid as a communications or advertising concept? The answers to those questions lead you to choose among verbs like “measure,” “describe,” or “bring to life” — all of which are different concepts, and all of which give more information to a reader than the abstract (albeit brief) word “dimensionalize.”

The combination of stuffiness and imprecision — a fancy word that pretends to speak volumes yet only whispers incomplete thoughts — is the surest sign of harmful jargon. And in the case of this (evidently) brand-new word, the telltale signs are visible at birth.

If you’re hanging out in circles where things are being “dimensionalized,” you ought to re-conceptualize how you spend your time.

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