The Ingenious Lexicon of Invention

Whether you're an ingenious inventor or you just geek out on gadgets, here are some useful words to describe the process of innovation.

Check out the related article from our Department of Word Lists: The Innovative Language of Invention

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definitions & notes only words
  1. blueprint
    something intended as a guide for making something else
    It seemed overkill then, but now it looks like the blueprint for a new class of Android phone, which Google will officially certify as Daydream Ready.
    You’ve probably heard this term used to describe the plans for something. Folks come up with blueprints for better health, less pollution, career advancement, and football games. But the original meaning, first found in the mid-1800s, was far more literal: "a photographic print composed of white lines on a blue background, used chiefly in copying plans, machine drawings, etc.” From there, the term spread to any technical drawings, and then any plans, by the early 1900s.
  2. concept
    an abstract or general idea inferred from specific instances
    After all, there are mainstream concepts that are far more imaginative than this possibility, but similarly unproven.Scientific American (Dec 19, 2018)
    A concept is an idea, so inventors tend to be pretty strong conceptual thinkers. The adjective version of this word often turns up in the art world. Paintings or sculptures that are realistic are representational, but art that’s more about an idea — like Duchamp’s famous “Fountain,” which is just a regular urinal plopped into a museum — are called conceptual. For conceptual art, it’s all about the idea.
  3. device
    an instrumentality invented for a particular purpose
    One set of hacking tactics relies on accessing the device itself and installing snooping software that provides a way to remotely track what happens on the phone.
  4. gadget
    a device or control that is very useful for a particular job
    Ring video doorbells, Nest Hello and other connected security cameras are the fastest-growing home improvement gadgets since garage-door openers.
  5. ideation
    the process of forming and relating thoughts
    It involves solving problems through research, empathy, ideation and prototyping, and was famously used in the 1980s to create Apple’s first computer mouse.
    An invention starts with an idea, and here’s a fancy word for the process of coming up with ideas: ideation. Inventors are whizzes at ideating. When you think of ideating, imagine a light bulb flashing over your head. Ideation is close to inspiration. Inspiration might make a poet write a sestina, but it makes an inventor come up with an app that figures out where missing socks go (patent pending).
  6. ingenious
    showing inventiveness and skill
    Hackers are finding ingenious ways to hijack phone numbers.Fox News (Dec 23, 2018)
    If you look at this word closely, you’ll see a little genius, and that’s appropriate. Ingenuity is the quality of being ingenious. The ingenious have a level of creativity and insight most of us poor slobs will never achieve. The truly ingenious would include folks like Thomas Edison and Steve Jobs. Of course, like most words, this one is often used loosely, since the only thing people like more than pizza is exaggeration.
  7. innovation
    the act of starting something for the first time
    Supermarkets “seem to be a good fit for retail technology innovation” because they adopted to the things like self-checkout long ago, said Evan Shiue, director of strategy and finance at Standard Cognition.Washington Times (Feb 10, 2019)
    This is a word heard often in the tech world of apps, clouds, bundles, plug-ins, and other gizmos, and why not? An innovation is the development of something new, and new is necessary in the race to create the best phone, laptop, TV, or (come on, guys) jetpack. This word has been found in English since the 1500s and has the verb form innovate. Innovating is a giant part of what inventors do. The Latin roots of this term link it to some other words for new things, like novel and novelty.
  8. inspiration
    arousal of the mind to unusual activity or creativity
    For inspiration, Ms. Hughes and her collaborators turned to the human hand.New York Times (Dec 19, 2018)
  9. inventive
    marked by independence and creativity in thought or action
    Michelangelo was no less inventive than Leonardo, and he was equally famous.
  10. iteration
    the act or process of doing or saying again
    Apple’s new MacBook Air brings numerous improvements over the previous iteration, with its Retina Display, Touch ID, improved trackpad, and modernized design.
  11. model
    a hypothetical description of a complex entity or process
    So scientists rely on simulations and events like forest fires and volcanic eruptions to validate their models.
  12. necessity
    the condition of being essential or indispensable
    The necessity is clearly there, and now, so is a possible invention.
    “Necessity is the mother of invention” means “People tend to invent things that are needed.” Necessity is a synonym for need. Food and shelter are necessities for life. Powerful rockets were a necessity for the moon landing. For a fish, water is a necessity. Just because you want something badly doesn’t make it a necessity. An everything bagel with garlic cream cheese may feel like a necessity, but it’s really just a great idea.
  13. novel
    original and of a kind not seen before
    So now it is time to target novel pathways to tackle this incredibly complex disease.
    This is different from the noun meaning a book of fiction. As an adjective, novel means new, fresh, innovative, unprecedented. A novel idea is the opposite of a tired, old-timey idea: a novel turn of phrase is the opposite of a cliché. Inventors chase the novel.
  14. patent
    a document granting an inventor sole rights to an invention
    Of course, all those wild, futuristic ideas still rest inside a patent application for now.
    Since the 1500s, patent has held the current meaning: a license that gives you ownership over a certain thingamajig. Inventors strive to get their products patented, just in case someone else out there has a similar idea, which has often happened: great minds really do tend to think alike. People also use this word loosely for anything a person is known for, like a football player’s patented touchdown dance.
  15. process
    a particular course of action intended to achieve a result
    But for every breakthrough there are many other results without any clear social application, and given the slow, painstaking process of research, you may not be able to tell which is which for decades.
  16. product
    an artifact that has been created by someone or some process
    Most of our gizmos rely on generic hardware, much of it produced in China, used in consumer products worldwide.
  17. prototype
    a standard or typical example
    Three such engines are expected to be installed on the company’s prototype Starship, which will perform short “hop” tests up to low altitudes of between 1,640 and 16,400 feet.
  18. solution
    the successful action of solving a problem
    If I was giving advice, I’d say there are no problems, only solutions.
  19. technology
    the practical application of science to commerce or industry
    It also found 64 percent fewer injuries from such collisions compared with similar models without the driver-assistance technology.
  20. test
    standardized procedure for measuring sensitivity or aptitude
    Although we saw our first test of these engines way back in 2016, this latest test uses a full-scale engine that Musk called “radically redesigned.”
Created on February 10, 2019 (updated February 10, 2019)

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