Tag: meaning

Sound effects: Handbag v. purse

Woman with handbagI have a German friend who uses the word “handbag” rather than “purse.” It’s a difference I immediately noted, because of the different feel of the word. (She speaks English with a British accent, which surely accentuated the difference.)

At any rate, consider: Judging only by the sound of the two words, who is more elegant, a woman carrying a “handbag” or a woman carrying a “purse”?

“Purse” is a brusque single syllable. It opens with the plosive “p” and moves into a slightly growling “rrrrrr,” wrapping up with a hiss. It’s related to the verb “purse”—as in, “purse your lips”—which refers to puckering, contracting, or wrinkling. Not particularly flattering.

“Handbag,” in contrast, has two nice open “a” sounds. The word as a whole begs to be elongated—please, it says, take your time saying me. The “nd” sound helps out with this effect. There’s a certain luxury to it.

Image source.

I’m not a linguist. I’m just listening.

So What IS the Etymology of ROI?

At the opening of “What’s the ROI for This Article?” Todd Wasserman points to a shift in language: The phrase “return on investment” began to grow in popularity just as the phrase “return on capital” began to lose popularity.

The word-nerd in me immediately perked up. Why would the language change if we’re still talking about pretty much the same thing—”bang for your buck,” as Wasserman says.

Alas, Wasserman notes that the reasons are “unclear.”

I looked at the Google Ngram he provided and saw that the increased usage of ROI began in the 1960s. And I couldn’t help but wonder if the shift began—at least in part—because the term “investment” was more amenable to the mood of the Sixties than the term “capital” was. As is so frequently the case, language morphs with the times.

Any bets on whether a political scientist somewhere has already written the article on this? Otherwise, there’s got to be a master’s thesis in here somewhere…

Meaning comes from the intersection of multiple sources. In the old days, journalists triangulated truth against a handful of sources. Today, we need to triangulate truth against millions of sources.


Brian Solis, Without Analytics, Big Data is Just Noise