Word Routes

Exploring the pathways of our lexicon

Buzzword Watch: "Acq-hire"

Earlier this month, a post by Dan Frommer on Business Insider had this to say about Google, Facebook and Apple: "Recently, all three companies have been making a lot of 'acq-hires,' where they buy a company to acquire its human resources." You read that right: acq-hire. Where did this odd word come from?

If you don't read online news covering the Web 2.0 business world, chances are you've never run across acq-hire. But the term has developed a modest following among technobloggers — sometimes hyphenated, sometimes not:

MediaMemo: "The paper puts a $10 million price tag on the deal, which would make it one of the 'acq-hires' that Google does with great frequency these days."

TechCrunch: "Most likely these were more acqhires where the talent was being bought more so than the underlying products."

GigaOM: "The small deal — an 'acq-hire' of a company with relatively little funding and few employees — fits in with Facebook's deal-making history."

It also gets used as a verb:

Connected Social Media: "Geek Entertainment Television have been 'acq-hired' by PodTech.net."

paidContent: "Google Buys Social Search Startup Angstro, Acq-Hires Co-Founder Khare"

Business Insider: "The team behind Brizzly, one of the better Twitter apps out there, is reportedly being acq-hired by AOL."

Sometimes, rather than acqhire or acq-hire, it gets spelled as acquhire or acqu-hire:

GigaOM: "These are multimillion-dollar acquhires."

TelecomPaper: "Google's 'acquhires' to enhance portfolio."

Mobile Dev Zone: "Motorola Acqu-Hires Cappuccino Developers."

Very often it's impossible to find out where a newly coined word first came from, but in this case we can trace all of the variants back to a blog post by Rex Hammock on May 11, 2005. In that post he introduced acqhire (no hyphen, no "u") and defined it thusly: "When a large company 'purchases' a small company with no employees other than its founders, typically to obtain some special talent or a cool concept." Om Malik of GigaOM immediately picked up on it, and the blog that he oversees became a proponent of the word (though, as seen above, they're not too sure how to spell it).

Hammock hasn't hidden the fact that he's been trying to work acqhire into the tech/biz lexicon. In December 2006 he used it as a verb ("I believe Microsoft has just acqhired a media brand"), and then said of the term, "I've been trying to turn it into a buzzword for a long time." Now, more than five years after he first used it, we can see that the coinage has made some strides among one sector of the blogosphere, but it hasn't progressed much beyond that. Perhaps that's because of its strange look, blending acquire and hire into a word that is head-scratchingly difficult to spell and to pronounce. (I assume it's meant to be pronounced "ack-hire.")

Despite the word's peculiarity, it apparently predates Hammock's baptismal post, though used in a different way. The company Development Dimensions International, Inc. filed a registered trademark for "Acqhire" in October 2004, some seven months before showing up on Hammock's blog. The trademark listing says it's for "business consulting services directed to assisting employers to improve the selection criteria for hiring employees," and DDI's website further explains that it is "a totally integrated, end-to-end solution that helps you make more accurate, cost-efficient hiring and promotion decisions."

What do you think of acqhire as a buzzword? Does this ungainly concoction have any chance of breaking out into wider usage? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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Ben Zimmer is language columnist for The Wall Street Journal and former language columnist for The Boston Globe and The New York Times Magazine. He has worked as editor for American dictionaries at Oxford University Press and as a consultant to the Oxford English Dictionary. In addition to his regular "Word Routes" column here, he contributes to the group weblog Language Log. He is also the chair of the New Words Committee of the American Dialect Society. Click here to read more articles by Ben Zimmer.

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