Words-worth: Cascade

Do you 'cascade' information? Or do you just give it to people straight?

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

To 'cascade' announcements is to feed them in at the top level of your organisation and let them trickle to the bottom. It's a metaphor. A real 'cascade', of course, is a waterfall, or, more specifically, one of those garden features in which water runs over a pile of rocks in a series of little falls. It comes from the Italian cascata, which just means 'a fall'. Did this piece of jargon come from close observation of the effect of gravity on water? Perhaps, but there are several other possibilities. In electronic engineering, to 'cascade' devices - for instance, amplifiers - is to connect them one to another for cumulative effect. The word also has a number of arcane uses in computing. And in game theory and economics, 'information cascades' explain the tendency of people to follow the herd. But it doesn't really matter where 'cascading' comes from; if you are at the bottom, dribbled on from a great height, you will find it equally infuriating.

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