FACILITATE: “make (a process or action) easy or easier” — New Oxford American Dictionary

The lexicide of facilitate is sad indeed, and all the more so because it died such a quiet, unnoticed death. Nowadays, one facilitates a meeting, or more likely (since active verbs are verboten in the corporate world), one acts as facilitator for a meeting. That’s a mealy-mouthed way of saying, “I’m in charge, underlings!” It almost makes me yearn for the yesterdays of Mr. Dithers and J. Jonah Jameson, where taking command was something to be relished.

Yes, leadership is in vogue, but so is teamwork and buy-in, so that might explain why you wouldn’t want to establish a hierarchy in a corporate setting. That would be unAmerican.

Interestingly, having a leader — someone who cuts off those long, awkward silences by moving through the agenda — does make a meeting easier, which is the original meaning of facilitate (from the French facile). I do have an entry here from  Webster’s New World Dictionary of the English Language (College Edition, 1951) that reads “to lighten the work of; assist; help,” but this is still a far cry from “leading” or “taking charge of,” which is how many use the word today, in doing so facilitating its lexicide.

A little end-note: facility used to bear a meaning in line with its root, the French facile, meaning “easy” — to wit, “ease in moving, acting or doing.” That is the primary definition in all of my older lexicons (and not even that old; the definition I cited comes from the American Heritage Dictionary, 2nd ed., 1991). You would say a ramp provides facility in moving objects. The more common usage today riffs off the tertiary definition of “something that facilitates an action or process” (ibid.). The sense still exists that a facility should make things easier. Which makes me wonder why we need facilities management teams. 

—Otto E. Mezzo

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