Words-worth: Brainstorming

Do you still brainstorm? Or are you into cloudbursting, or thought showers?

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Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

The word 'brainstorming', meaning a free-form pooling of ideas, has fallen into disrepute because it's said to offend people suffering from, for instance, epilepsy; but charities dealing with brain disorders have raised no objections. It is true that 'brain storm' once had those connotations. In a medical dictionary of 1894, it is defined as 'a succession of sudden and severe phenomena, due to some cerebral disturbance' and it was used that way in Britain into the 1920s. In the US, the phrase gained currency after a murder case of 1906 when a millionaire was acquitted on appeal after his lawyers blamed his actions on a 'brain storm'. But then the Americans began using the phrase to mean a good idea, equivalent to our 'brainwave'. When, in 1939, adman Alex Osborn invented the ritual he called a 'brain storm session', he was using the expression in that sense. So Americans have no problems with 'brainstorming'. We, though, have been scratching around for alternatives. A pity they are all so wet.

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