JS Tip 466: "Cool" New Words

From the Writing Workshops: “Cool” New Words

Our good friend Darrell Harmon asked us about new words worming their way into the language: “My two favorite words to hate are incentivize and mentee. Fingernails on a chalkboard to me. Arrrggghh. Ugly.”

We agree. Arrrggghh. Ugly.

Some people use these new words to draw attention to themselves: “Hey. Look at me. I’m using a new word. Isn’t it cool?”

Incentivize? Doesn’t encourage mean the same thing? And doesn’t it draw less attention to itself?

Mentee? Doesn’t protégé work? And doesn’t it draw less attention to itself?

Some Background

Mentee has an interesting history. The Oxford English Dictionary dates the word to 1965. That’s it. 1965. Someone used mentee to describe an individual being mentored.

That makes sense, doesn’t it? If we say employer and employee, can’t we say mentor and mentee? Can’t we? Huh? Please?


Mentor is a little older than 1965. Try 725 BC. Homer’s Odyssey. When Odysseus goes off to fight in the Trojan Wars, he leaves his son Telemachus in the care of a good friend. The friend’s name? Mentor. Yup. Mentor teaches Telemachus. He protects him. He mentors him. 

That’s where the word came from.


So—for the most part—use the old words. The good, old words. The less-flashy words. They draw less attention to themselves and more attention to your ideas.

Next week, we’ll talk about new words that pay their dues. 

We love this stuff.

We really do.    

Mark Brooks