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After Jeff Bezos used the word 'complexifier,' everyone wants to know what it means

After Jeff Bezos used the word 'complexifier,' everyone wants to know what it means
Jeff Bezos used the word "complexifier" on Thursday, and conversations about its meaning quickly followed. (Cliff Owen / Associated Press)

As the ongoing spat between Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos and National Enquirer’s parent company, American Media Inc., continues to unravel, Americans are getting a remedial vocabulary lesson thanks to the spitfire responses spewing from each side.

Bezos invited the word “complexifier” into the vernacular Thursday after using the term repeatedly in an overshare Medium statement that addressed the squabble. He called his ownership of the Washington Post “a complexifier” for him because its coverage makes powerful people — such as President Trump — believe Bezos is their enemy. (For more on that, click here.)

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It’s a classic case of context explaining a word rather than vice versa, but Bezos’ admission perplexed readers unfamiliar with the complicated-sounding term.

And therein lies our conundrum, friends, because other than that, the word appears pretty undefined. Bezos was swiftly harangued for making up the word because little comes up to define it in traditional online dictionary searches.

Vocabulary.com defines it as someone who “makes things complex.” Merriam-Webster also has an entry for “complexify,” a transitive verb meaning “to make complex.”

Merriam-Webster’s lexicographer, Peter Sokolowski, deemed complexifier “a perfectly good derivative noun.”

However, Dictionary.com doesn’t yield a definition for either word. But the reference site is never one to sit out a diction-related exchange on Twitter. It tweeted that “Complexify is a rare word. Complexifier is even more rare,” but that they’re still words.

The pithy reference site and Merriam-Webster also cheekily tweeted lines about the words “apoplectic” and “pecker” (in reference to National Enquirer publisher David Pecker, who’s entangled with Bezos) that we probably shouldn’t repeat for the easily offended here.

Meanwhile, Google Books search results indicate that “complexifier” is indeed used, but with rare frequency, in physics. Some appearances include “Modern Canonical Quantum General Relativity,” “Mathematical Results in Quantum Mechanics” and a few other complexifier-worthy titles.

Another appearance comes by way of “Rules of the Hunt: Real-World Advice for Entrepreneurial and Business Success,” which appears to reference annoying people we probably all work with. Though Bezos does hold degrees in computer science and electrical engineering, perhaps his business clout makes that usage the more likely intention.

A 2015 Kellblog entry from tech executive Dave Kellogg also puts the word in business terms, defining it along with its antonym, a “simplifier.”

“There are two types of people in business,” he wrote. “ Simplifiers: who make complex things simple [and] Complexifiers: who make simple things complex”

And there you have it.

The good news is that “complexifier” has enough precedent in the English language to prevent it from being the new “covfefe.”

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