Tuesday, April 21, 2009


Since when did the word legacy become negative? Since when did the word legacy become negative? Merriam-Webster gives it just two brief meanings; (n) money left to someone by a will; bequest or anything handed down from, or as from, an ancestor. Hmmm, that seems quite positive to me. Wikipedia has dozens of references, all mostly positive except perhaps for some movie and book titles, which may have darker meaning in their content. The only sort of negativity I found is legacy carrier (an older airline) or legacy software (a term for out-of-date hardware and/or software still in use). Maybe this last one is getting close--out of date but still hanging around.

I only mention this because it seems in the last few years that the word legacy has gone from being a positive noun to being a negative adjective, like in John Madden, who suddenly announced his retirement, was a legacy analyst on Sunday Night Football. He’s 73, sharp as a tack, but he’s been around a bit, so legacy implies he may not be capable of describing certain football field action in modern terms. Too bad John, I thought you were still pretty sharp; but then I am a legacy fan.

Ridiculousness was reached however when I read that the so-called toxic assets of shaky banks were now being termed legacy assets by the current administration in Washington. Two-edged sword here because legacy is meant to be less inflammatory than toxic (good) but still negative (bad).

“Legacy assets” are those assets which are less productive (outdated) and in some cases least productive over time, they are just on the brink of being a liability. The term “toxic asset” is a rather new non-technical term used to describe certain financial assets when their value has fallen significantly and when there is no longer a functioning market for these assets, so that they cannot be reasonably sold.

Now I’m getting a clue; legacy means, according to the bean counters, outdated, least productive, almost a liability. It’s beginning to be clear that some wet-behind-the-ears MBAs, probably working for large business consulting companies, found the word legacy was a less-harsh word than old, out of date, or not productive. This got hijacked by corporate managers facing staff downsizing in the last few years and seized upon as a euphemism for old, which helps them avoid age-related litigation.

Poor John, he claims it was time for him to go. I chose to believe that he was called into the network president’s office and advised that he was now a legacy analyst and that the younger, hipper (read that heavy discretionary spending) viewers were turned off by his dredging up comparisons from his years of experience.

The other day, at a technical conference, I caught myself expounding on a laser application that seems to be undergoing a resurrection, laser peening (ILS August 2008). It first appeared in the 1970s to a lot of technical interest but no business potential and since then has occasionally popped up, last time when a major jet engine maker installed some systems. At the coffee break, the speaker presenting an update of the process and I were comparing notes on what had transpired over the years. I stopped and told him, jokingly, that he was a legacy technologist, with a legacy idea, talking to a non-legacy audience, except for me, the legacy attendee.

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