Open Dictionary word of the week: granular

Posted by on June 14, 2012

granular (adjective)

(used about data and information) broken down into small separate items

The association of group practice administrators asked CMS to provide more granular identification of all entities that fund, receive and administer insurance claims.

(Submitted from the United Kingdom)

Last week Orin Hargraves wrote a post here entitled “Going granular” about this very word granular, and it was then added to the Open Dictionary last week too. And I’m glad I get to draw attention to it again because it had this lovely insight which I’ve been thinking about a lot since:

What is the appeal of words like granular and granularity when English already has words that mean nearly the same thing and that are more typically applied to information? The words I’m thinking of are specific and its noun, specificity. It may be that despite all of the great advances of our intelligence, humans are still bound to their sense organs and we like things described in ways that relate directly to seeing, hearing, feeling, tasting, touching, and smelling. Language that brings our understanding a step closer to sense data is more engaging than language that is entirely abstract. [Read the full post here]

I tried to think of more examples and it’s not difficult to do. When I first began working in publishing there was a lot of new information and a lot of new words and most of it went straight over my head. I really had to grapple (see?) with it, write it down, find someone who knew to explain to me … but when a phrase like drill down  was used in a meeting, for example, I knew exactly what was meant – an immediate visual image flashed up creating a visceral response. I instantly understood what was required even though it was my first corporate job and I had never heard the term before. It affected my senses, in the same way that touch base still makes me squirm. I suppose a lot of these words have emerged in workplaces or lifestyle contexts where a lot of time is taken up with abstract things – numbers, strategies, ideas – and maybe these terms provide the extra benefit of keeping us in touch with the tangible, with words and phrases that include the body and the senses.

Of, course making fun of corporate jargon is one of our guilty pleasures and one post in particular is well worth going back to for a laugh: Stan Carey wrote a letter from an imaginary boss in an imaginary office  … but what did the letter say, exactly?

There’s an archive of these sorts of posts  to while away a few hours, here.

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