So I just received back some comments on a project proposal that contained this word “operationalization.” And it occurred to me that I actually have no idea what this means!

Breaking it apart, 1) we have a root, “opus/opera,” meaning “work” (same as in the musical terms).

And now a whole string of derivational suffixes:

2) the noun “opus/opera” becomes the verb “operate”;

3) which becomes another noun, “operation”;

4) which gets turned into an adjectival form, “operational”;

5) from which we get another verb, “operationalize”;

6) which finally gives us … yet another nominal form, “operationalization.”

That’s 3 nouns, 2 verbs, and an adjective, if anyone is keeping count.

So the question is: how do we simplify this thing? “The procedure whereby something is made operational/workable/usable?” I guess that’s what it’s trying to convey.

But even more fully parsed: “The procedure whereby something is put into a form which can serve as an entity upon which one can do some kind of work.”

Ugh. That’s just one ugly word, isn’t it?

The contextual phrase was “operationalization of theories,” so why not just something like: applying the theories? That’s about half the number of syllables plus pretty much anyone can understand it.

But … that seems to be the point. Non-academic folk aren’t supposed to understand academic-speak anymore. Not just when specialized terms do need to be used, but, like, ever, it seems…