MEMORIALIZE: “1. to address or petition by a memorial; 2. commemorate: …an exciting period in history that has been memorialized in many popular books and movie; …at the entrance to the park stands a statue memorializing the novelist Sir Walter Scott.

Is everyone straight on what a memorial is? It celebrates someone who’s dead. Dead dead dead. Memorial Day is for our war dead. A memorial hospital honors a philanthropist who is dead. If you’re in the memorial business, you know what you make? Tombstones. Not carpeting or cookware or lawn care implements. Tombstones. For dead people.

So when you read this sentence:

Such communications may be memorialized in emails, memoranda, or notes.

perhaps a tear comes to your eye. You think of the sage advice your grandmother offered, or perhaps a wedding homily from your favorite uncle, now deceased and sorely missed… except that this line comes from an official Department of Justice memo, and the “communications” involved are “‘[s]ubstantive’ case-related communications” that “may contain discoverable information.” Hmm. Hardly worthy of a memorial, but certainly bearing the need to be preserved or recorded.

Or how about this one:
This serves to memorialize and inform you and the other members of the Detroit Board of Education…

“Oh,” the Board members (and recipients of this memo) are thinking. “We’ve passed into the great beyond. Crap. I really wanted to plant those forsythia borders this weekend.” But wait – read on:

…of those certain events that took place during my weekly meeting with the Board President Mathis.

“I see,” the Board sighs with relief. “The Superintendent doesn’t understand that memorialize means something other than ‘record.’ At least I can plant those shrubberies.” (Read the whole memo here, but be warned, the content is – um, disturbing and sexually explicit. I wish they hadn’t memorialized it.)

But what bugs me more than this overblown alternative to “remember” or “commit to the record” is that memorialize, as I mentioned before, is for dead people. Not memos. Not sheaves of foolscap. And it’s only a matter of time before HR managers memorialize employee birthdays.

So unless you are dealing with the deceased, you have no business memorializing jack doodle. Unless Jack Doodle has recently passed on. In which case, a postmortem is also in order.

instead, use: record, remember, preserve, commit to the record, write down

Otto E. Mezzo


Suggested by Nancy Friedman’s article “Weird Words from the Corporate Lexicon” at Visual Thesaurus.