Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Social studies

I heard a usage today, twice, that sent me scurrying to the dictionary. (Well, to Google, but that led to the dictionary.) Considering that I work in high-tech, you'd think I'd be au courant with late-breaking linguistic developments. Perhaps I don't go to enough meetings.

Anyway, the term in question is socialize. Obviously, we all know it in the context of chatting at cocktail parties and the like. And after peeking at the dictionary I allow as how you can transitively socialize, say, a feral dog. (You can do so grammatically, if not always in reality.)

Yon dictionary also uncovered a couple of transitive usages that I am not very familiar with:

2 a: to constitute on a socialistic basis <socialize industry> b: to adapt to social needs or uses

: to organize group participation in <socialize a recitation>

Can't say that I've ever consciously heard either of these usages.

But the usage I heard today was subtly different yet. At a meeting today, we were discussing a particular technique that we'd like people to use, and the boss said We need to socialize that.

A few editorial eyebrows twitched at that. I attributed it to a slip of the tongue and that what was meant was We need to evangelize that, which is a pretty common thing in our corporate lingo. Sell it. Talk it up.

But then later today, by golly, I attended a panel discussion about blogging, and one of the participants said this: I socialized the term "blog smart."

Hearing the second instance within mere hours made it clear that I just had totally missed this one. So, a bit of Web-based research revealed that the phrase socialize the idea (as but one possible phrase for this usage) has a couple thousand hits.

Web searching also turned up a couple of attempted definitions. This one is from Terrence Seamon:

The concept of "socializing" refers to the interpersonal communication process of building support for an idea or course of action by visiting with key stakeholders one at a time.

From the page 7 Buzzwords Every Content Provider Should Know*:

[T]his word means "to spread an idea with the hope that familiarity will gain it acceptance or build a consensus." Sentence: "After I write an article I like, I socialize the idea with social bookmarks."

In this blog post, they're simply taking it as a synonym for "familiarize," but in the comments people suggest slightly different definitions, for example:

[S]ocializing to me often means convincing a group – frequently by leading the members of that group to believe they helped to develop the idea.


Familiarization is a passive activity (I expect the team to learn it) whereas socialization is an active activity (I am responsible to teach it). It is in that teaching that the idea may undergo some changes and or modifications that may aid in its adoption or rejection.

It's mildly interesting to encounter a new (to me) word like this, but somewhat more interesting to discover that although the core idea is something like "sell personally," the exact definition is a little elusive. Of course, this is hardly the only example.

* I think they're not counting the buzzword content provider in the title.


Nancy said...

I must go to more marketing meetings than you; I've been cringing at transitive "socialize" almost as long as I've been cringing at "monetize."

But what your post reminded me of was something I once read by Adair Lara, erstwhile SF Chronicle columnist. She needed something to wear to a fancy party, so she wandered into a section of Nordstrom called "Social Dresses." "And not one of them so much as said hello," she grumped.

WordzGuy said...

Yeah, I've really been out of the loop on this one, it seems. To use an older marketing term, haha.

I love the story about the Social Dresses. Reminds me of the joke about the complimentary peanuts. :-)

PS You know, I pretty much expect to hear "Nordstrom's" all the time now. (Not from you, of course.)

Rick S said...

Regarding definition 2a, wouldn't this be the relevant one for the term "socialized medicine"? I assume you've heard that term.

WordzGuy said...

@Rick S -- absolutely, but I don't recall hearing it used specifically as a transitive verb in this context, only in the participial form that you cite.

Gordie said...


Simon T Small said...

haha, a friend of mine, radio host, does this all the time, he even got his word on to big brother once.

Anonymous said...

"We have to socialize it around at our level, and get N. to socialize it around it his level." [cringe-worthy comment at a "Baby Bell" in about 1986.

4ndyman said...

It sounds like people are using socialize to mean "attempt to get something to go viral." (Go viral is, of course, another one of those terms gaining ground quickly.) That's really what they're after, right? Perhaps epidemicize, symptomicize, or simply contaminate would more accurately carry the metaphor?