Brainstorms, Turning to Showers

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Until recently I associated only two meanings with the word brainstorm:

1. noun: a brilliant idea. Ex. Hey, guys, I just had a brainstorm! Let’s go to the movies.
2, verb: to generate a lot of ideas in a short time. Ex. Before deciding on an essay topic, take the time to brainstorm.

According the the Wikipedia, brainstorming

is a group creativity technique designed to generate a large number of ideas for the solution of a problem. The method was first popularized in the late 1930s by Alex Faickney Osborn in a book called Applied Imagination. Osborn proposed that groups could double their creative output with brainstorming.

Here’s what it says in the OED

brain-storm, (a) ‘a succession of sudden and severe phenomena, due to some cerebral disturbance’ (Gould 1894); (b) U.S. colloq. = brain-wave (c); (c) U.S., a concerted ‘attack’ on a problem, usu. by amassing a number of spontaneous ideas which are then discussed; also attrib.; so as v., to make such an attack; hence brain-storming vbl. n. and ppl.

Apparently some sensitive civil servants in Britain think the expression “brainstorm” is potentially offensive to people who have epilepsy or some other medical condition that affects the brain. They recommend that we adopt some other figure of speech, such as word storm, thought shower or ideas shower.

. . .staff at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI) in Belfast will use the term ‘thought-showers’ when they get together to think creatively. A spokeswoman said: ‘The DETI does not use the term brainstorming on its training courses on the grounds that it may be deemed pejorative.’ —The Guardian

A spokesman for Tunbridge Wells Borough Council in Kent said: “We take diversity awareness very seriously. “The majority of staff have taken part in training and been asked to use the term thought showers.” —The Telegraph

It seems that people who actually have the condition of epilepsy aren’t much bothered by the popular use of “brainstorm” to mean “to generate ideas.”

The Epilepsy Foundation of Los Angeles named a recent conference “The Epilepsy Brainstorm Summit.”

Gemma Baxter from the National Society for Epilepsy in the U.K. said her organization contacted people with epilepsy in the community and the overwhelming response was that ‘brainstorming’ implies no offence to people with epilepsy, and that any implication that the word is offensive to people with the condition is taking political correctness too far.” –quoted in Free Republic

Tricia Ward and Sam Delaney have something to say about this well-meaning pre-emptive effort of the language police to spare the feelings of people whose feelings are unknown to them:

Tricia Ward
Sam Delaney (Update: Article no longer online)

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7 thoughts on “Brainstorms, Turning to Showers”

  1. thought showers?; what’s next? eliminate “on the other hand” so people with one arm take no offense; Euphemisms have already gone too far. I don’t know whether to cry or laugh

  2. You may be interested in the following acticle related to our Councils and their addiction to controlling language use:

  3. Hysterical but not surprising. The PC police do get carried away.

    I’ve always thought brainstorming had to do with creativity and coming up with new approaches. Epileptic seizures? Nope. The people I’ve known, who’ve had this condition, would agree with Ward and Delany.

    By the by – is PC for Politically Correct or Pure Crap? I tend to favour the latter.

  4. It has occurred to me that there is a cottage industry of PC-gnomes whose sole purpose in live is to find offense where none exists.

  5. I like the word “epiphany”, which is fine if you’ve come close to knowing what Webster’s publishes on a routine basis. Unfortunately, for most people I know who’ve had a brainstorm, it barely turns out to be a light drizzle.

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