Here are three words, a verb, a noun, and an adjective, which have caught our ears as we’ve traveled around on our American Futures adventure. We couldn’t miss them. They are ubiquitous—and sometimes even invoked—when people enthuse about the dynamic, exciting changes going on in their towns. What is going on with these words? Why did they catch on, how have they changed, and where are they going?
Collaborate. Def: to work together, one with another; cooperate, as on a literary work (Random House Unabridged Dictionary, 2nd Edition. 1993)
You knew that. Collaborate isn’t a new word, but it sure has changed over time. Back during World War II, of course, the meaning of collaborate took on the negative sense, now listed as second definition in the Random House dictionary:
Def 2: to cooperate, usually willingly, with an enemy nation, esp. with an enemy occupying one’s country.
Collaborate is a word with powerful resonance, and it has enjoyed popularity anew in the last 10 years. Google confirms this! Here is a Google trend chart that tracks the frequency of use over times of “collaborate,” gathered from news headlines.
The word has become embellished in reference, I would say, to include not only literary or intellectual pursuits, but also business, educational, philanthropic, technological, and economic development pursuits in general.
It has taken on new forms as well. In Columbus, Ohio, I heard a young boutique shop manager say that their store often “collabed” with the wine bar and restaurant across the street for events. She said it as though those two extra syllables were taking up too much time, when we all got the point just as well without them. And “collaboratory” has its own Wikipedia entry and mention in urban dictionaries, even if it not yet officially sanctioned by august twelve-pound dictionaries. There is a new company called the Columbus Collaboratory, also in Columbus, a new company bigger than the sum of its parts that will work on big data, analytics and cyber security.