"Lean in" has leaned so far it’s nearly horizontal. It all started in Sheryl Sandberg’s 2010 TED talk, when she famously remarked that too many women were “leaning back.” The meme seeds were sown and Sandberg turned a clever phrase into a slogan for feminism. However, Sandberg did not invent the actual phrase. According to Ben Zimmer of Visual Thesaurus, the term was commonly used in sports, such as “leaning in to the slope,” and “leaning in to the wave,” and eventually turned into a metaphor for taking risks.
David S. Meyer, a professor at UC Irvine, says that part of the secret sauce is that the phrase is “short, digestible, easily interpretable and easily mis-interpretable.” The lack of specificity means that “lean in” can be applied to many different situations, which means more people can use it. “Lean” is also a subtle command word that has mostly positive associations; “lean on me,” “lean” foods, and “lean” startups. All of these phrases are far from negative.
A simple buzzword is now a feminist movement and a major meme. That’s definitely something we can “lean” on.