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Grammar police citation #5: nouning verbs

We've got quite used to the (predominantly) American habit of verbing nouns: I'll architect that, you'll leverage this, we'll make enough money to summer in the Hamptons if we can surface the advantages quickly. You can source your own examples and action them. Last year the BBC used medal as a verb in coverage of the Olympics ('that's not a good enough performance to medal'). I suspect we all do it now: you google for this, I'll blog that.

This year I've been finding nouned verbs more annoying. Customers don't make requests, they have a 'key ask'. And now Waitrose is at it. The instructions on the Emperor's Sticky Ribs tell me to remove the lid "for a stickier eat".

Sometimes there's a good reason to weird the language, as Calvin and Hobbes put it. Strunk and White defines flammable as "an oddity, chiefly useful in saving lives. The common word meaning 'combustible' is inflammable. But some people are thrown off by the in- and think inflammable means 'not combustible.' For this reason, trucks carrying gasoline or explosives are now marked FLAMMABLE. Unless you are operating such a truck and hence are concerned with the safety of children and illiterates, use inflammable."


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
14th Dec, 2005 09:58 (UTC)
I'm glad you posted this, because it has made me realise why the management-speak use of "spend" has been annoying me so much for the last few years. As in, "Our R&D spend is x million pounds". It's an example of exactly the kind of nouning you're talking about (and is paricularly stupid because they could as easily say, "our R&D spending...").

I haven't seen the particular examples you cite, I'm pleased to say. A "key ask". *Shakes head*
21st Oct, 2010 06:58 (UTC)
So this is an ancient blog post, but I definitely talked about nouning verbs today with my friends. Here's a thinker: Could "produce" be the original noun'd verb? As in lettuce, cabbage, carrots, what have you.
21st Oct, 2010 12:02 (UTC)
Re: Produce
that's really an Americanism, and they've nouned a verb (I wonder if it was u-hating Webster?) - but it's not the first, I'm sure. I was looking something up in Fowler's Modern Usage and he mentions some horrible examples from centuries past, many from Chicago I think.

Also: 'thinker' - see me at the back for suitable reprimandage.
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )


full steam ahead
Mary Branscombe
Simon & Mary

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