OPINION COLUMNS

It’s hard to be original these days

By Brian Eaton | Published Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Have you ever come up with a great idea that you think no one else has ever thought of, only to find out later that someone else came up with the same thing some time ago?

That seems to happen to me a lot – whether it’s a business idea, an invention, a new word or phrase, or these days, a new app for your phone. And when I start telling people about my great idea, it’s usually someone much younger who bursts my bubble, saying that it has already been invented or put into practice somewhere or somehow by someone else.

It just takes a few seconds of Googling to confirm that my innovative idea wasn’t so original after all.

Maybe ideas in the past weren’t always so original either, but at least you could think they were. This age of instant information through the Internet has numerous benefits, but sometimes there are drawbacks.

Can you imagine if Henry Ford lived in today’s era of social media? On his Michigan farm, Henry shows his visiting little cousin the prototypes of his “horseless carriage.”

Cousin: “Henry, that’s so 1880s. Dude, Karl Benz has been tweeting about that like, forever. And check out these videos these other European guys have been posting on YouTube.”

Poor Henry may have been so discouraged that he just might have given up on his idea.

But I digress. Back to my latest original idea that turns out was not.

Growing up in a newspaper family, the topic of the use, and misuse, of language was a recurring one, and it seems to have stuck with me. One thing I’ve noticed for some time is when people use an acronym and then go ahead and say the word one of the letters stood for anyway.

(Refresher for those whose brain is still on summer vacation – an acronym is a word or abbreviation that uses the first letter(s) of words in a phrase; example: SCUBA for self-contained underwater breathing apparatus.)

A classic example of this practice is “ATM machine,” where, of course, the M in ATM already stands for machine. But we all want to add “machine” after ATM anyway. Not sure why, but perhaps leaving it at “ATM” just doesn’t sound complete.

A few of my favorites include “RAM memory,” “IRA account,” “PIN number,” along with its cousins “VIN number” and “EIN number,” “GPS system,” “estimated ETA” (the added word can come at the beginning also), “SAT test,” and “IRS Service Center,” though I guess some people have their own ideas about what the S in IRS stands for.

There are lots of these; see how many you can come up with.

Anyway, while I’ve noticed this phenomenon for years, and truth be told, am periodically guilty of it myself, I’ve always thought there should be a word to describe it.

Then, driving home from Decatur a few weeks ago, out of the blue I came up with it.

Acrodundant! (Another refresher for summer brains: being redundant is adding unnecessary words, like using two words when one will do. A classic example – “12 noon,” when noon is always 12:00.) Acrodundant – a brilliant word, don’t you think? And how original, too, right? Not to mention witty.

So pleased was I with myself that I mentioned it to a couple of friends and family members who agreed that I’d come up with a winner. My teenage son even said he’d post an entry in Urban Dictionary for my newly-coined, ever so clever, word.

But that’s when the trouble hit. The next day, as I went to the Web to view my masterpiece, lo and behold, someone, or maybe multiple someones, had already invented this word. And it went back to at least 2005, for heaven’s sake!

Deflated, but not quite ready to throw in the towel, I changed my word for the aforementioned language habit to Acropetitive, which really is more accurate anyway. So far, I haven’t seen that one used by anyone else.

But if you find out it has been, please … don’t tell me.

Brian Eaton, a graduate of Decatur High School and Southern Methodist University, is a certified public accountant in Fort Worth.

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