Channelling the spirit of a potty-mouthed Lynn Truss, my colleague James Higgs wrote today:
Dear Everyone, the word “learning” is not a noun […] in the sense that “that’s a really interesting learning” makes no sense whatsoever and makes me want to blow chunks.
I think he’s onto something. He’s not strictly correct, of course: the existence of learning as an uncountable noun is well established in expressions like machine learning or accelerated learning, but the countable usage seems to be a novel development in English. I don’t recall having heard it in common use until very recently. I mean, it sounded weird when Borat used it, right? And yet suddenly it’s everywhere:
Cox Says It Will Apply Learnings From Previous Failures In New Wireless Venture
Nonetheless, it’s quite a useful word, and despite the uncomfortable suspicion that it’s some kind of ghastly business jargon, I’ve found myself using it recently. Maybe it even has a kind of homely, pre-Conquest, all-Germanic air about it, reminiscent of Poul Anderson’s essay Uncleftish Beholding
But I was curious. Was it really novel? I referred to the Shorter Oxford:
3 A thing learned or taught; a lesson, an instruction; information; a doctrine; a maxim; a branch of learning; an acquired skill LME-E17
That last part means that it’s obsolete, and attested in sources from Late Middle English to the early 17th Century—that’s between 1350 and 1630.
So whilst it’s not completely true to say that the word doesn’t exist, it’s certainly not part of modern English—or wasn’t until its recent zombie-like reanimation—and it’s rightly controversial. To avoid discord (and projectile vomiting), may I recommend Jerry McManus’s suggestion:
Quit using the word ‘learnings’. It makes you sound really stupid. The word you really want is ‘lessons’.
That’s me learned.