Illustration: Nick Shepherd

Where does the word 'streamlining' originate?

WORDS-WORTH: No one wants to hear that their company's being streamlined even though it might be the best course of action.

by John Morrish
Last Updated: 24 Feb 2016

Metaphors often explain difficult business concepts. But they can provoke derision ('low-hanging fruit') or fear ('circling the drain'). Take 'streamlining'. If you say you're 'streamlining' a business, you're using a 19th-century term from fluid mechanics. The 'streamline' is the smoothest course possible for a liquid passing an object. 'Streamlined' objects, like racing boats, are desirable. But when you tell workers that you are 'streamlining' their company, they don't think of the boat: they think of the flowing water going past, and themselves floating downriver with it.

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