Monday, April 28, 2008


Anu Garg's Word-A-Day service for last week featured seldom-used verbs, the idea being there are existing verbs which will do the job in the vast majority of cases in which people create verbs out of nouns. Anu writes:
"There's nothing more grating on the ears than the gratuitous "verbification" of nouns in a modern workplace exchange. From "productizing an idea" to "administrating the plan" and "incentivizing the workers", these verb-forms are about as graceful as a sumo wrestler performing a ballet.  Don't get me wrong -- there's nothing sinful about coining new words, or using existing ones in creative ways, but these Latinate constructions just don't work. There are already countless words that can do the job very well."

There is a school of thought which holds that it doesn't matter what words we use as long as the listener or reader understands what is meant. I do not subscribe to that school of thought. Certainly there is a role for coining new words, where no other word already exists to express the particular concept involved. But to willy-nilly create a new word by adding "ing" to the end of a noun and use it as a verb, that is just intellectual laziness. It represents an inability or unwillingness to engage in careful thought and choose the right word to express the idea being communicated. Or perhaps it represents the lack of any real idea behind the expression. I think it is true that folks who speak in a muddled fashion also think that way.

Adam Field responded to Anu's original post with an interesting observation:

I just have to point out one thing - the problem here is *not* just that there are other ways to do the same job. The problem here is that these verbs were formed out of nouns that were, in turn, formed out of verbs. Thus, in each case, the best verb for the job is exactly the original verb the new one came from. Verbs formed from nouns formed from verbs are fine, but when the new verbs mean the same as the old ones, they're entirely redundant, and that's the problem. On the other hand, when verbs are formed from nouns that were formed from verbs, and they end up with *new* meanings, it's all kinds of interesting, as seen in this Pinker essay:

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