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The Origin of a Word: Meeting

We decided to do a little bit of research to better understand the origin of the word ‘meeting’. It looks like today’s employees aren’t the only ones who complained about these gatherings. In fact, we discovered that people have been complaining about meetings since the 14th century.

Etymology (the origin of words) is an interesting subject. For the word ‘meeting’, there are several geographical origins that seem pertinent to share.

Old English

In Old English, meeting stems from the word ‘mētan’ – which means to come upon.

When we think of the word ‘come upon’, ideas of an unexpected encounter arise. We end up in yet another unproductive meeting. However, not all meetings are an attack by surprise. In fact, it’s worse. We often plan them ahead of time. We carve our schedules around these encounters.

Other online etymology tools imply that this origin includes references to combat. We think this might explain why some companies refer to their meeting spot as the ‘war room’.

(Meetings don’t need to be an attack. They can be fixed.)

Dutch

With Dutch origin, meeting is related to the word ‘moeten’ – which literally translates to ‘should’ in the Dutch language.

‘Should’ might be the unofficial motto of most meetings. Things I should do. Things I should have done. Things I should say.

Whether the action items are dependent on information that should be better prepared for the next meeting or the staff should have had a proper itinerary, should happens.

At Nextup, we offer simple meeting solutions that prompt action. In short, we stop you from should’ing on yourself

Traditional English

In traditional English, meeting has ties to the word ‘moot’ – which is defined as ‘having little or no practical relevance, typically because the subject is too uncertain to allow a decision’.

Unfortunately, this hits close to home. A meeting is intended to allow an opportunity for decision-making, but that seldom seems to be the case with most companies. You need to clearly define the confines and expectations of the meeting so that your time spent together isn’t mutually wasted. Only meet if it will lead to tangible action.

I guess most people that met in Britain during the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries didn’t enjoy meetings either. In their defense, if I had to embark on a journey that took 4-5 days of hiking to reach the meeting place, I’d be pretty agitated if the meeting didn’t decide anything helpful or conclusive. Thanks to tools like Slack and Zoom, our generations have it much easier.

It’s kind of ironic, huh? In each of these three examples, there’s a negative connotation with the origin of the word – no matter which way you spin it.

However, not all of the available origins stemmed from something off-putting. The 17th-century English definition of ‘meeting’ is arguably the best example.

It directly translated to “fit to do something”. While some argue that this definition had existed since the 14th century, we can see a clear example of this early 1800’s usage in Thomas Love Peacock’s poetry:

“The mountain sheep are sweeter,
But the valley sheep are fatter;
We therefore deem’d it meeter
To carry off the latter.”

For our own business meetings, it is this definition we should look towards in the future. Instead of counting sheep in your next meeting, act on ways to utilize this definition. Meetings can help us ascertain the best choice of action and meetings can serve to help us select the best choice, but only if we structure our group conversations with intention.

It’s important to acknowledge that meetings can be painful. That’s not new. Standup meetings can be slow-moving before coffee. They can also be scatter-brained after coffee. You shouldn’t feel that your company or your team is alone in this struggle. The pain has existed (within multiple languages) for hundreds of years.

Thanks to modern technology and a crowdsourced understanding of best practices, we can easily resolve these century-long struggles. Tools now exist that can ensure we don’t waste time with unprepared and unproductive meetings.

What is your team fit to do?

Logan Vantrease

Customer Success Manager at Nextup.ai