Saturday, 20 March 2021

Nouns as Verbs

I’ll a-to-zed it.

There, I’ve said it.

It’s surely a better verb to use.


Is Greek in disguise

I prefer an “English” word to choose.

I coined a word the other day, in response to my wife’s saying that she was going to alphabetize her music. “You will a-to-zed it,” I said. Nor sure about the spelling, though.

This is not to be confused with a word from the last century, probably now archaic with the advent of TomToms and GPS:

Back in the sixties, I used to AtoZ my way around London.

Incidentally, George Orwell, the writer who preferred "English" words to Latin or Greek ones, also came up with a series of rules for good writing, one of which is frequently broken when nouns transition change into verbs

Never use a long word when a short one will do.


Parts of speech have always morphed into others, particularly nouns into verbs. Rarely are they necessary; sometimes they are creative and evocative; more often they are cold, lazy, pompous, or downright ugly, in my opinion. But language evolves.

For years I wouldn’t access my bank account, I would gain access to it, but I have to confess that more recently, I may have accessed it on occasion, and the verb no longer grates on my ears. Well, only slightly.

Nor would I use the noun “impact” as a verb, as in “The virus has impacted the economy.” A better verb, “affect”, already exists.

However, common usage has now firmly established these two words as verbs. Far worse are the more recent verbal atrocities.

One unpleasant and unnecessary new verb is to gift. For example, in the BBC news a few days ago,

Each year, the Queen gifts each of her staff of around 1,500 with a traditional Christmas pudding.

Why on earth would you gift something when the verb to give already exists. I’m sure the Queen didn’t say, “Merry Christmas, everyone, I’m going to gift you all a Christmas pud.”

Well, someone might argue, to gift has a more precise meaning. But surely, whether or not the object being given is a gift or not will always be clear from the context.

Another noun-verb that makes me feel quite queasy is “to transition”. 

I will be transitioning from the White House at the end of this month”, she (Kellyanne Conway) said in a statement.

I imagine her changing shape like Proteus. And you have to ask, what sort of person would say that she was transitioning rather than moving from the White House or changing jobs

Another ugly verb, used by people who move in political or bureaucratic circles, is used only in the passive voice, not a good sign:

On health care, I support Medicare for all, and Joe Biden obviously doesn’t. Many Democratic voters agree with me, as evidenced by the overwhelming support in the exit polls during the primaries. 

In a similar vein, and even worse, is the verb to reference. It’s ugly, unnecessary, and it’s everywhere.

During our interview, Bonnie ... references Albert Camus's The Plague.

Mr. Anastasi wasn’t referencing merely his newspaper’s storied history.

Speakers referenced voting for change in the November election...

Pollsters, referencing the president’s problem with alienating some supporters with his comments on race and gender....

Have writers forgotten that the word already has the verb form, to refer?

Some of these new verbs are lifeless. If the Olympic Games ever come to pass, we'll often hear this cold and sterile verb:

These Canadians hope to medal in the Japan Olympics.

Even worse is the verb to incentivize.

Victoria has a new bylaw coming that will incentivize deconstruction over demolition...


Recently, however, I came upon a new noun-as-verb of which I heartily approve. It’s a verb particularly appropriate here in Victoria, where the City is gradually replacing its streets with bike lanes. 

The fine for dooring a cyclist increases to $368 as of today.

I would define the verb as follows: "Door(v): to open a car door suddenly with the result that the cyclist coming up from behind crashes into it."

What an evocative metaphor! We hear the sound of the door opening and the bicycle crashing into it. We see the cyclist hurtling over the door and thudding onto the pavement, hopefully to rise again and cycle on.

Two questions I would ask about any of these neologisms. Are they necessary? Are they evocative?

Please share any noun-verbs that you find particularly abominable.

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