Wednesday, December 05, 2012



Friending, trending, even evidencing and statementing... plenty of nouns are turning into verbs. Anthony Gardner works out what’s going on ...

From INTELLIGENT LIFE Magazine, Winter 2010

Mothers and fathers used to bring up children: now they parent. Critics used to review plays: now they critique them. Athletes podium, executives flipchart, and almost everybody Googles. Watch out—you’ve been verbed.

The English language is in a constant state of flux. New words are formed and old ones fall into disuse. But no trend has been more obtrusive in recent years than the changing of nouns into verbs. “Trend” itself (now used as a verb meaning “change or develop in a general direction”, as in “unemployment has been trending upwards”) is further evidence of—sorry, evidences—this phenomenon.

It is found in all areas of life, though some are more productive than others. Financiers are never lacking in ingenuity: Investec recently forecast that “Better-balanced autumn ranges should allow Marks & Spencer to anniversary tougher comparisons”—whatever that may mean. Politics has come up with “to handbag” (a tribute to Lady Thatcher) and “to doughnut”—that is, to sit in a ring around a colleague making a parliamentary announcement, so that it is not clear to television viewers that the chamber is practically deserted.

New technology is fertile ground, partly because it is constantly seeking names for things which did not previously exist: we “text” from our mobiles, “bookmark” websites, “inbox” our e-mail contacts and “friend” our acquaintances on Facebook —only, in some cases, to “defriend” them later. “Blog” had scarcely arrived as a noun before it was adopted as a verb, first intransitive and then transitive (an American friend boasts that he “blogged hand-wringers” about a subject that upset him). Conversely, verbs such as “twitter” and “tweet” have been transformed into nouns—though this process is far less common.

Sport is another ready source. “Rollerblade”, “skateboard”, “snowboard” and “zorb” have all graduated from names of equipment to actual activities. Football referees used to book players, or send them off: now they “card” them. Racing drivers “pit”, golfers “par” and coastal divers “tombstone”.

Verbing—or denominalisation, as it is known to grammarians—is not new. Steven Pinker, in his book “The Language Instinct” (1994), points out that “easy conversion of nouns to verbs has been part of English grammar for centuries; it is one of the processes that make English English.” Elizabethan writers revelled in it: Shakespeare’s Duke of York, in “Richard II” (c1595), says “Grace me no grace, nor uncle me no uncle”, and the 1552 Book of Common Prayer includes a service “commonly called the Churching of Women”.

There is a difference today, says Robert Groves, one of the editors of the new “Collins Dictionary of the English Language”. “Potential changes in our language are picked up and repeated faster than they would have been in the past, when print was the only mass communication medium, and fewer people were literate.” So coinages can be trialled around the world—and greenlighted—as soon as they are visioned.

Full article at Intelligent Life

Thanks to publisher/author Renee Lang for bringing this story to my attention.

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