Friday, September 14, 2012

Verbing Makes Me [sic]

I was listening to a radio commercial this morning for an HVAC company that was touting how its product can heat and cool rooms individually. Except they didn’t use the words “heat” and “cool.” Instead, they claimed that their system will “comfort” each room in your house independently. “Comfort”? Since when is the word “comfort” a verb?? Well, okay, it CAN be a verb, as in “When my baby cries, I comfort her.” But this ad was taking the NOUN “comfort,” which means “a state of ease or satisfaction of bodily wants,” and making it into a verb. It was verbing it, if you will.

The concept of verbing is something of a distressing trend to me. And it is becoming amazingly common. Thanks to Facebook, the noun “friend” is now a verb, as in “An old classmate friended me the other day.” How about “dialogue”? That’s a lovely little noun that has been verbed in recent years. We don’t converse any more, we “dialogue.” I read about a flight attendant who apologized to her passengers that there would be a short delay in “beveraging” them. Really? “Beverage” is now a verb? Will we all be drinking from a trough full of Coke, like when you water a horse? And if you want to give someone a present, you now “gift” it to them. Why can’t you just give it to them? It’s not any longer or harder to pronounce or spell. Its only improvement over the original is that it makes the heads of grammar Nazis like me explode.

Sometimes it works in reverse, making a noun out of a verb. (Thank goodness, I’ve yet to hear the word “nouning” to describe the phenomenon.) The word “invite,” for example, which used to be a verb meaning “to request politely or formally,” is now a noun meaning “invitation.” Was there something wrong with the word “invitation”? Were four syllables just too overwhelming? Is that really such a problem that we needed to cut the length of the word in half?

I think what bothers me most about verbing is that there are so many delicious words already existing, and adding new ones merely serves to further limit the use of those words. When new words are used to introduce shades of meaning and describe things that did not previously exist, then I’m all in favor of adding them to the lexicon. But making the word “gift” into a verb doesn’t add anything. There is absolutely zero difference between “give” and “gift” other than the fact that no-one would ever have used the word “gift” as a verb 20 years ago. Ditto for the words “invitation” and “invite.” The language did not become richer or more descriptive by adding that new use.

So let’s all work on combatting this trend by bringing back the wonderful, descriptive verbs of years gone by. From Merriam Webster’s Word of the Day archives, how about these beauties: gambol, undulate, gainsay, bloviate, belaud, pervade, kowtow, inspissate, oppugn. (Yeah, I said “oppugn.” Go look it up.) Or a few glorious rarely-used nouns, like incunabulum (INCUNABULUM!!!!), scaramouch (Freddy Mercury knew what it meant, do you?), marplot, tucket, luciferin. And I must throw in a few other parts of speech just to be fair: lugubrious, gibbous, anthophilous, florid. THOSE are words, my friends. They look beautiful in writing, they feel lovely rolling off your tongue, they make you feel smart just using them correctly in a sentence.

But at the absolute least, let’s all get back to our grammatical roots by taking a little trip back to Saturday morning circa 1978.
Those are verbs that won’t make anyone [sic]!
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