Words-worth: Rationalisation

Making cuts is so unpopular you can understand why people find euphemisms like 'rationalisation' to describe the process.

Last Updated: 06 Dec 2010

After all, who could disagree with something that is presented as 'rational'? Only the irrational. 'To rationalise' is first recorded in English in the 17th century. It comes from the adjective 'rational', itself derived from the Latin rationalis, meaning reasonable. To rationalise something is to explain it or explain it away. Psychoanalysis gave us a common nuance: to rationalise something is to justify it with plausible but false reasons, often without knowing you are doing it. For example, convincing yourself your new iPad is an essential business investment, when really you just want a new toy. The use in commerce of 'rationalise' and 'rationalisation' emerged in the 1920s and it's a sad fact that the process of rationalisation never seems to involve expanding anything. No wonder the word is universally understood to imply cutbacks, closures and job losses.

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