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Vocabulary Shout-Out: Is the iPhone at an "Iterative Dead End"?

Reacting to Apple's "iPhone bonanza" on Tuesday, Wired writer Kyle VanHemert used iterative when reflecting on the new iPhone 5C. 

The holes on the iPhone 5C’s case…have zero functional purpose. They’re purely aesthetic. And in that light, you can see them as a sort of admission on the part of Apple. Jony Ive’s fanatical attention to detail, in a way, painted the iPhone into a monochrome corner. Maybe the iPhone 5 did really represent some sort of end of the road for smartphone design—at least in the current understanding of those devices. Maybe it had reached an iterative dead end, leaving no outward surface left for Ive to work his magic.

Iterative means "repeating." You might use the word to talk about a musical theme that recurs in a song or a symphony. Or the way a geometry teacher makes his class repeat the Pythagorean theorem out loud every time it comes up. Recently, however, iterative has acquired a new shade of meaning.

In a New York Times "On Language" column, Vocabulary.com lexicographer Ben Zimmer writes about this new sense of iterative (as well as iterate, iteration, and iterating) in business and technology contexts. The latest update of the Facebook interface, he explains, can be referred to as the latest iteration, and a company that is iterative is one that embraces experimentation and change.

This was the sense VanHemert was invoking when referring to the "iterative dead end" of Apple's iPhone. They had run out of ways to make it better, or iterate, the phone. Or, as VanHemert continued, "maybe they’d chamfered all they could chamfer."

Chamfer? Yes, you heard that right. Not only did VanHemert let iterative fly, he followed it up with another fantastic vocabulary specimen! Chamfer is a carpentry term that means to bevel, or round, a 90-degree angle. To see usage examples, visit chamfer's page in our Dictionary.


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