Morons Verb Nouns--And So Did Shakespeare

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It's Language Creep Week here at the Wire, so we take you now to Intelligent Life, where Anthony Gardner discusses the practice of "verbing." That's taking a noun and using it as a verb. Texting. Friending. Blogging. Trending. It's enough to make a linguistic prescriptivist tantrum. Enough to make a high-school grammar teacher stroke.

Gardner doesn't take such a hard line against verbing, noting that it's been with us since the days of Shakespeare, if not longer. ("Grace me no grace, nor uncle me no uncle," says the Duke of York in Shakespeare's Richard II.) The only difference is that verbing happens faster in today's hyper-connected world. Or, as Gardner puts it, tongue-in-cheekly: "Coinages can be trialled around the world--and greenlighted--as soon as they are visioned."

He goes on to point out that verbing simply isn't possible in many other languages, due to the way their inflection systems work. It's become prevalent in English in part because the language is flexible enough to allow it. Gardner quotes the Harvard professor Steven Pinker, who wrote in 1994 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."

To this, the Wire would only add that Calvin and Hobbes were talking about verbing long before Gardner's article appeared. With that in mind, we look forward to seeing future Intelligent Life columns on snowmen, transmogrifiers, and lemonade economics.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.