POSTMORTEM (or POST-MORTEM): “an examination of a dead body to determine the cause of death” — New Oxford American Dictionary
Aside from the lexicide of verbiage, no other meaning drift is as disturbing as this one. You don’t have to be a first-year Latin student to recognize the irony. As every fan of detective novels and “CSI” knows, postmortem means “after death.” At the risk of sounding didactic, let me repeat that: “after death.” Not “after the fact.”
So, corporate manager, you simply cannot call a postmortem meeting to discuss a project kickoff. You just can’t. Postmortem documentation is for coroners, not strategic consultants. I’ll say it again: postmortem means “after death.” If necessary, I’ll post an entry defining death.
And that is why this lexicide is so ironic and disquieting. It’s not just that college-educated business folk everywhere are witlessly wishing for their enterprises’ demise. (Will we soon start eviscerating our strategies instead of analyzing or dissecting them?) Merriam-Webster, Random House and AHD4 have all given in to popular misuse by adding entries acknowledging that yes, postmortem means “after the fact” or “an analysis after the event.” In other words, this entry is a postmortem for postmortem. To which I say, “Alas, poor Yorick. I knew him after the fact.”
My suggestion? The next time someone calls a postmortem for a live project, show up with scrubs and a bone saw. If you get funny looks, the correct response is, “what?”
— Otto E. Mezzo
In case anyone cares, to say “after the fact” pretentiously yet properly, try post hoc or post facto. Or you could just say what people used to say: wrap-up, summary or (here’s a gem) after the fact.
SIGHTING | March 13, 2009
The lead-in: “Now that Madoff is starting what will eventually become a long stay in the clink, let the post-mortems begin.” Harsh, man. I’m sorry I missed the drawing and quartering. Did they let Steven Spielberg and Kevin Bacon whip the horses?