Prioritize

By Maeve Maddox

Some speakers hate to hear people use the word prioritize, complaining that “it’s a made-up word that shouldn’t be used.”

Prioritize is a fairly new word, coined in the 1950s, and growing in popularity since the early 1960s. Speakers use it to mean:

to give priority to
to designate something as worthy of special attention
to arrange items to be dealt with in order of importance
to establish priorities
to establish priorities for a set of tasks

Here are some examples of its use online:

KMT, CCP agree to prioritize service trade agreement

How to Prioritize Your Debts

Council Approves Two Projects That Prioritize Pedestrian and Bike Safety

Four Must Know To-Do Lists To Prioritize Tasks

Strengthening parliaments in nascent democracies: the need to prioritize legislative reforms

As late as 1982, twenty years after prioritize entered the language, the OED acknowledged its existence, but included an apologetic note, saying, “prioritize is a word that at present sits uneasily in the language.”

Thirty-two years later, the OED site employs the word prioritizing unapologetically in a discussion of the term “network neutrality”:

This concept [network neutrality] has been the subject of much debate in recent years, reflecting something axiomatic for many Internet users; that all data on the net should be treated equally by Internet service providers, without favouring particular formats, products, or web sites by charging extra fees, prioritizing or blocking data of certain types, and so on.

Speakers who still want to hold the line against prioritize could replace it with the phrase “to set priorities”:

KMT, CCP agree to set service trade agreement priorities

Council Approves Two Projects that set Priorities for Pedestrian and Bike Safety

How to set priorities for your debts

People who don’t like prioritize shouldn’t use it, but trying to stop other people from using it is futile. I’ll be happy to recommend a much more worthy target of opprobrium. How about the use of gift as a verb when we already have the perfectly serviceable word give:

Lands gifted by donors are the foundation of SSU Preserves programs.

The Greeks have gifted the world with many things.

Teradata in the fall of 2010 gifted the Walton College of Business with a new Teradata 2650 system. 

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10 Responses to “Prioritize”

  • D.A.W.

    The so-called words “to priortize” and “to gift” are both disgusting neologisms created by linguistically-disabled people. End of story.
    D.A.W.

  • D.A.W.

    It is good to see that the OED uses the phrase “web site”, rather than some other (unnamed) disgusting neologism, though “Web site” is even better. “Web” is a proper noun that is a short form of “World Wide Web”, and that is definitely a proper noun.
    D.A.W.

  • D.A.W.

    Now, if we Americans and Canadians could only convince the British what “highway” really means. A highway is much more important than a simple “road” — For example, Interstate Highway 80 and the Trans-Canada Highway.
    D.A.W.

  • Danny

    I wonder if “to gift” is a back-formation from the neologism “re-gift,” which refers to the act of given a third party a gift one received from a second party, as opposed to purchasing a new gift. “I re-gifted the god-awful sweater my Aunt Sophie gave me for Christmas.”

  • dragonwielder

    I like “prioritize” – it’s not a wordy phrase, which means it’s quick and easy to use and is less likely to be stumbled over.
    As for “to gift”, what about uses like “the fairies gifted her with an amazing singing voice”? I see that fairly often in the novels I read, and I don’t see anything wrong with it. I probably wouldn’t use it in other contexts, though.

  • John

    OED uses the phrase “web site” whereas CDO uses “website”.
    http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/british/website?q=website

    There is nothing wrong with this word, and as @guardianstyle said “It’s not some newfangled invention any more.”

  • venqax

    @dragonwielder: As for “to gift”, what about uses like “the fairies gifted her with an amazing singing voice”? I see that fairly often in the novels I read, and I don’t see anything wrong with it. I probably wouldn’t use it in other contexts, though.

    I think that is an example of something pointed out in another post, i.e. sometimes when there is discussion about discerning between 2 words that are near synonyms, a completely different definition/usage of 1 of the words in question will be adduced.E.g. “Is there a difference between *complex* and *complicated*? The question, which you would think would be obvious, is regarding the uses of the 2 words in the same context. The problem is complicated vs the problem is complex. Seemingly inevitably, however, someone will point out that complex can also mean an assemblage of something: a hospital complex, disease complex. That is true but wholly and entirely irrelevant to the question regarding complex/complicated. It’s a bunny trail. That is an entirely separate meaning of complex that has absolutely nothing to do with the original issue.

    So, here. Not intended to be pedantic, but the “the fairies gifted her…” is probably using gifted as derived from a different meaning of gift: the adjective gifted specifically meaning having an exceptional talent or ability. So we say a virtuoso is gifted. All the fairies phrase is doing is making that a verb—which is somewhat suspicious grammatically, but certainly okay in a poetic sense. To say the fairies gave her an amazing singing voice is fine, but doesn’t convey quite the same meaning. You wouldn’t say such a person was “given” but you’d say she was gifted. I think your statement that, “[You] probably wouldn’t use it in other contexts, though” shows that you are intuitively aware of the difference, just not thinking about it.

  • D.A.W.

    To refer to an article that came a couple of days later:

    The word “website” lacks the GRAVITAS of “Web site”. In other words, “website” is lacking in any dignity, and it shows no respect for those geniuses and other technologists who created the Internet and the World Wide Web. In fact, “website” comes across as a deliberate snub to anyone involved in telecommunications technology.

    Why don’t we figure out a way to snub whatever profession or occupation that you are involved in? I am sure that this is possible.

    Writing “website” reduces the whole technology to the level of “water witcher”, “shaman”, “fortune teller”, “dog catcher”, “ditch digger”, “garbage man”, and “grave robber”.
    Show some respect where respect is due.
    D.A.W.

  • John

    So we know now that CDO shows no respect for geniuses and “website” lacks the GRAVITAS of Web site.
    John

  • venqax

    Show some respect where respect is due.

    Then let’s take a look at what exactly is due. The genius involved in creating technology including the Internet or WWW has absolutely no relationship or relevance to knowledge of language, grammar, or orthographic conventions. To imply it does is a classic example of argumentum ab auctoritate (appeal to false authority). Also known as the, “Einstein was a genius so English is properly spoken with a German accent” theory, or the “Einstein was a genius therefore his sense of personal grooming was impeccable” theory. Other than that:
    Why you are so convinced that *website* lacks dignity and delivers a snub compared to *Web site*…
    Why you think lacking gravitas means lacking any dignity or respectability at all…
    or
    Why you think dogcatchers, ditch diggers, or garbage men are of an ilk with graver robbers are, in turn, mysterious, uninformed, and snubblingly insulting.

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