Thursday, March 26, 2009


Some terms become buzzwords through exaggeration. One example is ‘revolutionize,’ which is currently used to describe many situations that simply do not warrant it.

To revolutionize something is to change it fundamentally. Such events have historically included forceful overthrows of governments (e.g. the French Revolution) and the formation of new economies (e.g. the Industrial Revolution). Today, however, the term is tossed about very loosely indeed.

On March 23, 2009, for example, an article in InformationWeek reported as a matter of fact that “Apple revolutionized the cell phone industry when it introduced the iPhone in 2007.” This is nonsense. The iPhone is a popular consumer device that allowed Apple to become a new player in the industry, but no others were forced out as a consequence, nor was the industry changed at any fundamental level.

Three days later, a review in The Globe and Mail of the animated movie Monsters vs. Aliens claimed, “For over half a century now, 3-D has been promising to revolutionize the movie biz,” but failed to suggest how. All the occasional ‘3-D’ movie requires is that audience members don special glasses for the effect to work—but other than that, their moviegoing experience and the business at large are the same as with ‘2-D’ features.

The shame is this misuse waters down the power of the word, such that when it is used appropriately—as on March 25, 2009, when The Daily Princetonian tentatively offered the headline, ‘New nanofluidics technology could revolutionize genetic analysis’—it risks being utterly overlooked by a jaded readership.

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