Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Eyeball This!

There is a growing tendency to use nouns as if they were verbs. The practice has always occurred to some extent in an evolving language like English; it no longer sounds grammatically odd for someone to “author” a book, “ink” a contract, or "chair" a meeting. Even notable writers have "verbed" nouns, often with great rhetorical effect.  In Shakespeare’s Richard II, the Duke of York angrily tells his disloyal nephew, Bolingbroke, “Grace me no grace, nor uncle me no uncle.” 

For reasons that have nothing to do with grammar, companies like Google and Xerox deplore the use of their names as verbs, since such lower-case common usage dilutes their legal standing as trademarks.  The battle may already be lost in those cases, since most people now “google” rather than “search on Google,” and when was the last time you heard someone say “photocopy this” rather than “xerox it”? 

Lately, however, the desire to turn nouns into verbs seems to be proliferating.  Your boss may "task" you with responsibilities, or you may be instructed to "architect" a new software system, or at least to "network" with your colleagues and "dialogue" about it.  Athletes now "medal" at the Olympics, bar patrons are "carded," and unwanted items are "regifted."

With his usual perspicacity, the Bard of Buffalo Bayou has versed as follows:

With no debts or troubles onus me,
And on my Facebook page, please friend me.
Goldman Sachs, I hope you'll bonus me,
And ExxonMobil, dividend me.


  1. Daddy always objected [as did his hero, Nero -- Wolfe, that is] to the use of "contact", "impact," and "access" as verbs. As the Grammar Nazi at TMIT, I know that I'm fighting a losing battle against technospeak ... but my [French-but-now-American-citizen] boss at least backs me up on the "access" thing. If nothing ELSE.

  2. It reminds me of the story about Kate Smith, who when Hawking (There is another one, Jim)Doeskin Tissues called them the best "kleenex" around.