Language is an odd ever changing thing. I was in a work meeting today. We were reviewing a suggested list of potential KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) on a project.
As part of this discussion, milestones were determined for the planning process. Merriam-Webster defines milestone two ways.
- a stone serving as a milepost
- a significant point in development
Probably completely needless, but just to be clear, we were using the word in the sense of its second definition.
Here’s the thing, our team leader did not use milestone.
The term meterstone was used throughout the entire document.
I paused and looked across the table to my co-worker with what I can only guess was an interesting expression on my face. She pushed mute on the phone as one does when they don’t want to be overhead by a dozen colleagues. She said exactly what I was thinking.
Co-Worker, “I’ve never heard anyone use that term before.”
Me with a shrug, “Neither have I.”
I did what many would do in this day and age. I opened up google to search if meterstone was beginning to replace milestone in the modern global lexicon. The group was largely international, so I did immediately begin to wonder if perhaps milestone was a geocentrically American word.
Did the rest of the metric world use something else and I’d just always missed that point?
Was I being US biased in my personal lexicon?
My confidence tanked. I work very hard to be aware and considerate of our natural local biases when speaking with international audiences.
- a stone functioning as a milepost.
- a significant event or stage in the life, progress, development, or the like of a person, nation, etc.
Dictionary.com lists 1740 as its first use, whereas Merriam-Webster claims an earlier 1662.
I hopped on over to Wiki and learned that the word milestone has had global meaning since the Roman Empire under definition number one. Woot! Not necessarily a geocentric word – it’s a historical artifact in our vocabulary. In fact, there is decent photo history on the types of stone and style of milestones and mileposts throughout the ages over at Wikipedia including examples in Europe, Asia, and Africa.
Don’t bother to look up meterpost. You’ll come up empty.
I continued to listen and participate on the telecon, but I also kept on thinking about this. I began to list in my head business synonyms for milestone definition number two: KPI, Go/No-Go, Decision Point, achievement, etc. I eventually looked in the thesaurus. Most of the synonyms are for definition one, but some could be used for both as a stretch.
Regardless, all of this simply reminded me of one of my favorite authors and books from when the kids were in that 8-11 age. Frindle by Andrew Clements. Most of his books are about middle-school ages kids. He’s an adept author whose books are interesting for adults to read but geared for kids to learn powerful life lessons. Frindle is one such story. It centers around the entire concept of word creation and how living languages change over time. It stars a smart kid who decides to challenge a language arts teacher by creating a new word.
I’m not hooked at all on the idea that meterstone will stick. It lacks the historical significance of the Roman Empire road building that literally changed the face of multiple continents. However, it could happen. And perhaps I had the opportunity to bear witness to its introduction.
Then again, perhaps I simply get to work with some very quirky individuals.
355 days to go