Words and expressions that become fashionable to the point of over-use lose their meaning. Mindfulness, for example, has become quite a fad these days, and it’s on its way to becoming a buzzword. When that happens we lose sight of the ideas behind the word; it’s reduced to a celluloid likeness that is cheap and easy to use without thinking (we use it mindlessly!).
When a term is over-used it finds a place in the popular consciousness. Hear it once or twice and you might check to find what it means (though most of us don’t). As it becomes more common, cropping up in the media on a daily basis and dropping into our in-boxes, two things happen. The first is that familiarity breeds contempt; the yawn-factor sets in and we see or hear the word without acknowledging it or thinking about it.
The other thing that happens is – because we are exposed to it so often – familiarity does something else; we begin to think we really understand what the word means simply because it has been hammered into us so often. As examples think of ‘dialogue’, ‘solution-focused’, ‘holistic’ and ‘global warming’.
It’s a truism as something becomes more popular it’s value declines, and a travesty when we fail to grasp important ideas because we think we understand them, when really we don’t.