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"Learnings"? In 2006, it was a joke word, meant to suggest crude ESL.

In 2007, it's actually being used in the New York Times. Was that the black day when it changed over?

NYT excerpt:

“We’re going to learn so much about our readers,” Mr. Smith said of the online-only issue. “We’ll take the learnings and apply them to the rest of our business.”

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  • 1
    In the excerpt, the word appears within a quotation. The excerpt consequently does not show that the editors of NYT endorse such usage.
    – jsw29
    Jun 21, 2018 at 19:54

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I share with you the jocular nuance of the word. However, a quick Google NGrams search shows that some time in the mid 1920's it started to become very popular very quickly and has been slowly reducing in frequency since a peak in the 1950's.

NGrams chart of learnings

A perusal of the hits shows that it's been used in the same manner, things that have been learned, all these years.

It has always sounded 'off' to me, like you said uneducated or like a goofy neologism that would never really catch on. And yet, it caught on a while ago.

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  • Eek, foolish of me to not think of checking NGrams. I was alive for the trailing edge of “learnings”’s popularity, but just don’t remember it. Jun 13, 2018 at 23:10
  • @Malvolio I look at the graph and have a hard time believing it because I feel like it was only in the past 10 years that corporate speak started using it. But then you look at the examples and the old examples are just as cringeworthy.
    – Mitch
    Jun 14, 2018 at 13:07
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Although the Ngram chart in Mitch's answer provides a heartening view of the decline of learnings in published texts included in the Google Books database (from the bad old days of the 1950s through about 2008), a more up-to-date look at the Ngram chart for learnings (starting, as Mitch's chart does, in 1910 but continuing through 2019) shows that the word has been on the upswing since about 1990 and that it has really begun to pick up steam in the past ten years:

This may reflect, in part, the vogue that learnings has enjoyed in business-speak in recent years, as MBAs—the same people who gave us "If you have to pose the ask, you can't afford the spend"—have embraced the notion that teachings beget learnings. I spend a lot of time editing business articles, and I can tell you that the enthusiasm for learnings in that sector shows no sign of abating. We're still in the early stages of a second wave at this point, but a wave it appears to be.

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I have been an editor on Chinese language translated documents in the early 2000s. After several years of doing this I have gleaned insight into how they think and common word usages. The use of "learnings" instead of "lessons" I believe is something that has crossed over into our English lexicon with the advent of Chinese (in this case) using words that just "seem wrong." And I believe "learnings" is just one such word that has been introduced into the English language is such a way.

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  • Hi Gregory, welcome to EL&U. This is an interesting speculation, but at EL&U we're not looking for authoritative, detailed answers. Can you edit your answer to provide a published example of a Chinese translation using "learnings" before the NYT did? For further guidance, see How to Answer and take the EL&U Tour :-) Feb 23, 2019 at 6:00

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