Learnings - a painful expression. Where did it come from?

The word 'learnings' is enough to leave most of us cringing. Here's where it came from.

by John Morrish
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

The dotcom entrepreneur Sarah Curran recently spoke about her business philosophy.

She didn't, she said, believe in mistakes - 'they're all learnings'. An admirable outlook: but a controversial use of language.

Last year, Forbes magazine included 'learnings' in a survey of 'the most annoying, pretentious and useless business jargon'. And it does feel wrong.

'Learning', a word of Germanic origins first recorded here in Anglo-Saxon times, is an abstract noun that is ordinarily used in the singular. It means 'the acquisition of knowledge' or 'knowledge acquired through study'.

In the jargon use, it has been turned into a concrete noun, meaning 'specific things I have learned'. Telling people about your 'learnings' is a bit like boasting about your 'wisdoms'. It is not, however, a new usage.

In medieval and Jacobean times it was perfectly acceptable to use 'learnings' to refer to 'things learnt'.

Shakespeare, whose free and inventive way with words has always been the despair of pedants, used it several times in exactly this way.

King Cymbeline, in the play of the same name, imparts 'all the learnings that his time could make him receiver of' to Posthumus, a young orphan he adopts.

And those are your 'learnings' for today.

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