And when did we start 'reaching out' to each other? We could just talk . . .

Thank you for reaching out," the corporate email started. "I will reach out to my team and let you know ..."

Since when did we start "reaching out" to each other? A CNN journalist had US President Donald Trump's son-in-law and White House adviser Jared Kushner reaching out to the Russians, making it sound more like a group hug than a secret meeting.

And Elizabeth McCord and Russell Jackson reached out to an arms dealer on TV's Madam Secretary.


Where do they come from, these new words and phrases that mysteriously appear in our everyday language? Who decides that a frazzled office worker doesn't have the "bandwidth" to accomplish a task, rather than the time or capacity?

Miriam Meyerhoff, Professor of Linguistics at Victoria University, can remember when she first heard the term reach out - in American TV series Blacklist.

She says it popped up again in a 2015 email from a Los Angeles hotel apologising for a room mix-up, saying it was their policy to "reach out" to their customers.

Both times, Meyerhoff jokes, she wanted to "reach out for my sick bucket ... in the old sense of the word". Needless to say, she dislikes the phrase.

And she's not all that keen on people who use it.

"Usually our attitudes to the language are really telling us more about our attitudes to the people who use those forms."

She theorises the phrase worked its way into West Coast American English some time before 2013, when she heard it on Blacklist, and then worked its way into New Zealand lingo. "Words are like the fruit flies of language," she says.

They suddenly appear, whereas changes to other aspects of language, like pronunciation or grammar, take much longer to embed themselves.

New words and phrases spread like viruses, says Dr Andreea Calude, linguistics senior lecturer at Waikato University.

Like the word "like", which is now sprinkled liberally through the conversation of millennials and Generation Z, like redundant commas.

Calude says we are from a "copying culture" and imitating words is no different. We adopt new words because we want to identify with the group using them.

Victoria University Professor of Linguistics Paul Warren agrees, saying adopting new words and phrases is the linguistic equivalent of copying fashions or haircuts of people we admire or want to be identified with.

Language experts also say if the brain hears a word repeated often enough we start to unconsciously include it in our own language.

We do this at different rates, depending on whether we're early adopters, the early majority, the late majority or the laggards - hopelessly late in adopting anything new.

Meyerhoff admits she has even caught herself using reach out this year.

"That's the problem. It's insidious. No matter how horrible you think they are, they are like a virus and once you get to a certain level, you're lost."

Phrases explained

•"The optics of the situation."
Translation: "The public perception."

•"Can you make a 10am WIP (work in progress)?"
Translation: "Are you okay for a 10am meeting?"

•"I don't have the bandwidth."
Translation: "I don't have the time", and possibly "do it yourself".

•"Thank you for reaching out."
Translation: "Thank you for contacting me/getting in touch."

•"I don't have the headspace."
Translation: "I don't have the time or mental capacity to deal with this right now". Possibly: "buzz off".

•"We're on the same page."
Translation: "We all understand what we're talking about."

•"Socialising ideas"
Translation: "Getting everyone to 'buy in' to an idea."