"Leverage" as a verb

Leif Knutsen vyer at EARTHLINK.NET
Thu Sep 6 13:01:48 UTC 2001

I'm still looking for those editors with real authority, but in the meantime I looked other places.  As David Barnhart shows in the e-mail (way) below, "leverage" as a verb seems to be a new word that has crept into common usage.  I'm a management consultant, and in my field the term has come into use as a synonym for "use," "take advantage of," "exploit," "apply," or even "enhance."  For example, "we will help you find ways to better leverage your customer intelligence."  It's clearly become part of the consulting "dialect" (aka "consultingese"), but that might actually be a bad thing.

The following standard dictionaries do not allow that leverage can be a verb: Macquarie Dictionary, Random House Webster, and XRefer.

It's Interesting that several online dictionaries allow "leverage" as a verb for the narrow meaning of borrowing money to control a corporation, thereby creating leverage from a small amount of equity.  These dictionaries include The Cambridge Dictionary of American English, (but not the Cambridge International Dictionary), Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, and The New Shorter English Dictionary, which suggests "lever" as a synonym.  David Barnhart writes that "leverage" as a verb has come into informal usage and cites The Barnhart Dictionary of New English, Macquarie Dictionary of New English, Oxford Dictionary of New Words, and Bloomsbury, Neologisms of New Words Since 1960.

The only dictionary that allows "leverage" as a verb as to "improve" or "enhance" is the American Heritage Dictionary (the source for dictionary.com).  

Style guides
The New York Times Style Guide makes no particular mention of it, and neither do the half dozen other style guides I found at Barnes & Noble.  I have the Economist Style Guide buries somewhere in my basement but couldn't find it.  One usage guide did, however bring it up:
Dictionary of Modern American Usage, Bryan Garner:
  [cites it as a strictly financial term, but then writes]  The term has a definitive meaning, but nevertheless may be characterized as a term used primarily by financial jargonmongers.  (See "jargon")
>From the OECD Style Guide:
        Trendy expressions soon become tired expressions. To keep your writing fresh, steer clear of buzzwords such as leverage (as a verb), paradigm and sea change, as well as clich├ęs such as state-of-the-art and cross-cutting. Your text may seem more topical if you sprinkle in a globalisation here, a sustainability there, but are these voguish (albeit vital) concepts really pertinent to your subject?
      From the Free Online Dictionary of Computing's style guide
        Never use the word "leverage" as a verb
      From Professor Sputnik's Lexicranky page ("thirty three terms which ought to be dragged out and slowly shot until they've had quite enough").  One of them is:
        Leverage (verb) 

        "I am leveraging my can opener to access the baked beans." Thanks to all the "leveraged buyout" hoopla in the 80's, here's an easy way to sound like a high-powered Wall Street corpo

        [although he points out with relief that "to leverage" has not - yet - been included in Webster's Third New International Dictionary]

      From Wired Style (the promotional blurb, no less)

        These are fingernails-on-the-blackboard words, real shiver-up-the-spine stuff: "functionality," "implementation," "bleeding edge," "leverage," "next-generation," "monetize," "mission critical." You can almost see the language curling into a fetal position to await the deathblow. "Monetize," for crying out loud. 

      Lake Superior State University Banished Words List, under Business Babble:

        LEVERAGE An over-used and often mis-used term in the business world. "I think it is a false verbification of the noun 'leverage,' says Phil Rustage, London, UK.

        "Leverage this...leverage that...It makes me want to puke. I don't really know the new definition of this word, but I've caught on (empirically) by hearing it a dozen million times from those suit-wearing marketing bozos." Todd Ryan, Knoxville, Tennessee. Todd performed an Internet search for 'leverage' and found more than 50,000 entries. He quit (and so did we) reading after the fifth entry, calling the lot of it 'gobbledygook.' We agree

      From World's Worst Words - "The Shit List" - "[thirty] overused and misused words favored by the illiterate," "leverage" is number 20.  This list is published by the Princeton Spectator, a college newspaper.

> leverage, v.
> Third Barnhart Dictionary of New English (e.q.=1957)
> Macquarie Dictionary of New English
> Oxford Dictionary of New Words
> Bloomsbury, Neologisms New Words since 1960
> I would guess that by now it's at least informal.
> Regards,
> David K. Barnhart, Editor
> The Barnhart Dictionary Companion [quarterly]
> barnhart at highlands.com
> www.highlands.com/Lexik
> "Necessity obliges us to neologize."
> Thomas Jefferson-August 16, 1813
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