The proverbial wisdom of crowds

I am fascinated by thingnaming.

In some ways there is no more straightforward way to certify your influence on the world than to count the number of times people use a word or phrase you invented.

On this count, James Surowiecki is a champion.1 His catch phrase the wisdom of crowds — a brilliant feat of thingnaming — has in four short years spread to over 2.1 million nooks and crannies around the web.2

In fact, BusinessWeek reporter Jennifer L. Schenker recently termed it the “proverbial wisdom of the crowd”. [Finding faces in the e-crowd, Businessweek, Dec 24, 2007, p.70]

At first I meant to poke fun at Schenker for attributing this adjective associated with adages of ancient origin to a four-year-old artifact.

However, digging further, I noticed that Schenker is right. Another use of the word proverbial is “having become an object of common mention or reference”, for example “your proverbial inability to get anywhere on time”.

Interestingly, a pun on Surowiecki’s phrase appears in the same issue of BusinessWeek. Stephen Baker’s long (yet remarkably content-free) piece on cloud computing is titled Google and the wisdom of clouds.

It’s amazing how crucial a good thingname can be to the success of a thing. Thanks James!

1Of course, beyond thingnaming, Surowiecki wrote a fantastic book that helped catalyze an industry, among his other plentiful contributions and accomplishments.
2For examples of unsuccessful thingnaming look here and here.

3 thoughts on “The proverbial wisdom of crowds”

  1. David,

    I’m fascinated by thingnaming, too! Thanks for expanding the conversation to include the impact of phrases and concepts – people don’t often realize that the terms we throw around had to come from somewhere (like “Death Tax” – a term that very intentionally replaced “inheritance tax” and took the world by storm.)

    Heck, “Thingnaming” is a coined term… it just hadn’t caught on yet.

    Thanks for the post and the link.

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