I recently encountered three usages which I’m not sure are good or bad. About half of the articles I subedit come directly from companies, and about half from PR agents. If PR agents have an official title, it’s usually something like “account manager”. But one has the title of “chief wordsmith”. It’s a real word, dating from 1895-1900, meaning:
1. A fluent and prolific writer, especially one who writes professionally.
2. An expert on words. (The Free Dictionary)
So a PR agent certainly fits that definition. But there’s something slightly strange about the word. Most smiths either work(ed) with metal (blacksmith (iron), coppersmith, goldsmith, ironsmith, redsmith (copper), silversmith, tinsmith, whitesmith (tin plate and galvanised iron)) or make/made artefacts from it (2). Also, the slightly problematic fingersmith, a midwife or pickpocket. A hammersmith may once have been an occupation, but the only references now are to the suburb of London. And goodness only know what a sexsmith such that it became a surname. One genealogy website suggests ploughshares (French soc) or sickles. That’s not what I was thinking.
Then there are wordsmiths, songsmiths and tunesmiths, all of which sound to me to be slightly less capable than writers, songwriters and composers, respectively. Maybe there’s something too non-physical about words, songs and tunes.
In the end, it didn’t matter, as a PR agent’s name and title don’t appear in a published article.
An article about mental health in the workplace quoted a “suicidologist”. It’s a real word, and there’s an American Society of Suicidology, which offers a Forensic Suicidology Certification, and a Master of Suicidology course from an Australian university. It dates from 1925-1930. I think the word has arisen because the academic study of the causes and prevention of suicide involves psychologists, sociologists and others. I left this title in the article. Still, I’d hesitate to introduce myself at a party as a suicidologist.
An article about a company was a bit vague as to what it actually makes, so I did some research. Its website listed a number of products, which I summarised as “security doors, gates and turnstiles”. It also described the company as a world leader in “entry solutions”. An online search reveals garage doors and fittings, keyless entry systems and audio/video systems. (And also “data entry solutions”, which is a red herring.) As it was Friday afternoon, I managed to mention “entry solutions” in the article. Any other day I mightn’t have.
PS 22 May. Yesterday lunchtime I saw a car with the name of a leading supplier of escalators and lifts. The company’s slogan is ‘Dedicated to people flow’ and its website talks about ‘people flow experience’ and ‘Advanced People Flow Solutions’. Really not sure about those, but I can’t think of anything better right now.