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Thread: "Verbing" nouns: Good or Not so Good?

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    "Verbing" nouns: Good or Not so Good?

    I’m bringing up this topic because some LitNutters have disagreed with my criticism of using the noun “reference” as a verb in the title of a thread in the General Literature forum:

    http://www.online-literature.com/for...ce-great-books

    One replier copied the entry from a dictionary which does accept “reference” as a transitive verb, but I have to say that it has only been very recently – - in this LitNet thread and from the lips of commentators on several cable news shows, that I’ve ever read or heard “reference” used as a verb-- and, as you know, I don’t like it.

    Adding unnecessary syllables to turn a good noun into a fuzzy verb is in effect trying to fix what hasn’t been broken. Since we already have a perfectly good verb already -- "refer” -- why would we want to "verb a noun"? For the record, the print dictionary which I have in my hand --The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language-- lists seven meanings for "reference" -- and they're all nouns, not a verb in the bunch.

    You might wonder why I’d bristle over such a trivial distinction. It worries me because it is a symptom of a larger issue. It’s not just “reference” used as a predicate that bothers me, but this recent trend of “verbing the noun.” I’m not alone in my misgivings about the practice; for instance, some contributors to the annual List of Banished Words posted annually by Lake Superior State University have also expressed their disdain for nouns that have been changed into verbs.

    http://www.lssu.edu/banished/current.php


    Don’t get me wrong: I don’t want to be characterized as a “prescriptive grammarian;”
    nor do I believe that the language should stay “pure” (whatever that means) or free from
    change. The definition of a “dead language” is one that stops changing, like Latin. English is wonderfully “alive!” I believe that our English language really does "evolve:" for instance, it’s fascinating to watch slang words becoming colloquial, and then eventually becoming "standard" (whatever that means.)

    There is a real danger with loaded jargon, though, in that it can undermine communication, confuse formerly direct statements, and dump a superfluous crouton into what may already be an overstuffed word salad. My “A Word With You” blogs from a year or two ago looked at language to see not only how it "evolves," but "devolves"; we've already seen numerous examples of Orwellian style "Newspeak" in political diatribes , advertising spectacles, and especially corporate discourse.

    Some sports commentators can be brilliant wordmasters but all too often their compulsion to fill dead air time will produce such neologisms, as the "verbed nouns" listed by a British columnist last year:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/blog...-harry-pearson

    So, LitNutters, tell me what you think. Do you think it’s a good idea to “verb a noun”? If so, why?
    Last edited by AuntShecky; 10-20-2012 at 03:46 PM.

  2. #2
    In the fog Charles Darnay's Avatar
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    On principle I agree with you. The fact that Google is a verb is irksome. But when it comes to reference, I never gave it much thought. Without consulting any dictionaries, and taking what I have experienced, there is a subtle difference between the verb "reference" and what you would consider more acceptable: refer to.

    From what I have used/seen/heard - "refer to" implies the act of consulting. I probably should refer to a dictionary to confirm these thoughts.

    "Reference" or "referencing" is the act of utilizing a previous source to bolster you point. By referencing a reputable source, such as a dictionary, this post might carry more weight.

    So I do not believe there should be a hard and fast rule. I think some nouns work as verbs, such as bacon (I love that bacon is a somewhat acceptable verb for the addition of bacon to x) and some (Google) do not.
    I wrote a poem on a leaf and it blew away...

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    Registered User kev67's Avatar
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    I agree it would have been better to write: "Great books that refer to great books." However, I have heard 'reference' used as a verb, usually as in, "Ensure you reference all your sources; otherwise you will lose marks for plagiarism."
    According to Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence once said that Balzac was 'a gigantic dwarf', and in a sense the same is true of Dickens.
    Charles Dickens, by George Orwell

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    TobeFrank Paulclem's Avatar
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    I've discussed this with you before Auntie - remember authoring your own reading journey? I don't have a problem with it at all, though I can't say I like all examples. This is just my partial preference though, much like the word lush - which I dislike just because I don't like how it sounds. (Completely illogical I know). I didn't like the verb to medal as used in the London Olympics, but other verbisations i do like.

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    Language is a living, evolving medium. Words gain new meanings or uses each day. The fact that dictionaries can't keep up is neither here nor there. And getting stressed because suddenly a noun is also used as a verb seems hardly worth the bother. There have been far worse crimes against language and grammar carried out by bureaucrats in the name of political correctness.

    H

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    Registered User Calidore's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by hillwalker View Post
    Language is a living, evolving medium. Words gain new meanings or uses each day. The fact that dictionaries can't keep up is neither here nor there.
    Yup. Seems to me that as long as the meaning is clear, you're fine. Verbs have also been nouned ("War and Peace is a great read."). Then you have "game" which is a noun which has been verbed as "gaming", which verb has now been nouned (renouned?) as "gamer", i.e. one who verb-games. In each case, it's simply creating a convenient shorthand. But no laws of grammar have been broken.
    You must be the change you wish to see in the world. -- Mahatma Gandhi

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    Throw that prescriptive grammar **** out the window.

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    That English constantly evolves as a “living language” has never been in dispute, even when a noun branches off into a verb. I used an example with the word “characterized” in the original posting above.

    In my ever-increasingly humble opinion, problems arise when some speakers and writers impose artificial changes upon words for a variety of reasons. I still can’t understand why--when we already have a perfectly good verb (such as “refer”)-- we would want to say “reference” instead; again, why fix what isn’t broken?

    Occasionally a speaker or writer may be unsure whether to use “affect” or “effect.” The most prominent role of “affect” is as a verb, meaning “to have an influence on;” (a less common meaning is “to feign,” such as “to put on airs.”) Very rarely is “affect” used correctly as a noun. It is appropriate only in the realm of psychology, where the word has an emotional connotation, as in the phrase “flatness of affect.”

    By contrast, “effect” is almost always a noun– - a synonym of “result.” There is, however,a rare use of “effect” as a verb. No wonder there is confusion! Allow me to quote the usage note from The American Heritage Dictionary:

    I]Affect[/I] and effect have no senses in common; therefore the tendency to confuse the words must be guarded against closely. As verbs, affect (the more common) is used principally in the senses of influence (how smoking affects health) and pretense or imitation (affecting nonchalance to hide fear); whereas effect applies only to accomplishment or execution (reductions designed to effect economy; means adopted to effect an end.) As nouns the terms can be kept straight by remembering that affect is now confined to psychology.
    So, rather than trying to keep the difference between “affect” and “effect” straight, sometimes a speaker will take a third option: “impact.” The trouble is, it is (or was) a noun– as in “make an impact.” My objection to using “impact” as a verb is that something of the original connotation of the noun “impact” has been lost: originally it meant a “collision,” perhaps as a result of a significant event, such as the an automobile accident or the crashing end to a meteor’s invasion into the earth’s atmosphere. As a verb, “impact” means to “pack tightly together.” There was wisdom in the original meaning of “impact;”
    it wasn’t afraid to show its “teeth.” Whether used as a noun or a verb, “impact” is (or was)
    not a synonym for “affect.”

    Maybe speakers use the word “impact” with the idea that it will artificially increase the ante, in order to sound more powerful than “affect.” But from impact we have the trendy, but head-scratching adjective “impactful” – and its equally-baffling cousin, which I heard Steve Croft once use on Sixty Minutes: “intentful.” (Wonder if the verbal gaffe was “intentional?”)

    Aside from adding syllables to perfectly good, already existing words in order to sound erudite or important, many folks pick up catch phrases and –that newly popular term– “memes” simply because they are trendy. I don’t see how trendiness for the sake of being trendy aids in communication nor enriches the language. As Alexander Pope put it:

    Be not the first by whom the new are tried;
    Nor yet the last to lay the old aside.
    It’s good for a person, even an old curmudgeonly auntie such as yours fooly, to stay current, but at the same time using an expression just because everybody else uses it is, well, “affected.” (See the second meaning of “Affect” above.)

    Some examples:

    “Reticent” – a serviceable adjective with a special nuance of meaning: it originally meant
    "reluctant to speak,” or the tendency of a reserved person to be uncommunicative. It is not the equivalent of “shy,” a quality which can take other forms beyond a mere reluctance to speak. But perhaps people say “reticent” because it somehow sounds brainier than “shy.”

    Not too long ago, when we wanted to quote someone else in a conversation, we’d use some form of the verb, “say:” Mama said, “There’d be days like this.” or The governor says, “I’ll veto that bill.” Somewhere along the line the word “says” was ousted by a different verb, not a verb associated with discourse but an action verb, “go”: I asked my father for some money and he goes, “Forget it.”

    Now when we quote we don’t use a verb at all! The cop’s like “You were speeding,” and I’m like “No way!” and he’s like “Let’s see your license and registration.” “Like” as a synonym for “says”? I don’t know about you, but I don’t “like” it!

    “Presently” – the adverb- means “soon.” At the time the dictionary which I used was published, only 47% of the usage panel contributing to the dictionary which I use approved of the use of “presently” for “now.” With the passing years, more and more experts find “presently” acceptable, but I still wonder why we don’t simply use the word “now.”

    Speaking of “presently,” I’ve noticed how there have been subtle though highly noticeable changes in how we speak of time. When not used as a noun referring to a cleric, the word “prior” is an adjective: preceding in time or order, as in “a prior engagement” or “prior restraint” or preceding in importance of value. The phrase “prior to” means “previous to.” When you listen to sportscasters and news pundits, you’ll be more likely to hear some form of “prior,” never the elegantly simple word, “before,” both in the senses of time past and in front of. No more “before”: instead, “ahead.” The East Coast is ‘hunkering down’ ahead of Hurricane Sandy, and we all remember the famous line from the Scottish play:

    “Is that a dagger ahead of me?”

    And for some reason, we’re all too frightened of the “future” to use that word. Same with “later” or “tomorrow” or “the days, weeks, months, years to come.” Instead, whatever is going to happen will happen “going forward.”

    Finally, it may be a trivial undertaking to quibble about arbitrary language changes, but in my opinion, a multitude of human problems – from the personal ones to the global– arise from the lack of communication. Language may be our most precious gift. Let it change, as it must. But let’s hope it changes for the better.

    “Words matter. Pay them heed. Tend them well.”

    –Lawrence Weschler and Walter Murch
    Last edited by AuntShecky; 10-25-2012 at 05:12 PM.

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    I agree with 99% of what you say, Auntie, but it's not for us to dictate how words are used or abused. If a word adopts a new (and possibly misinformed) meaning through usage then we have to accept that's how language develops. Having said that, i despair of the day when 'lay' is accepted as an alternative to the verb 'lie' (as in 'I'm going to lay on the bed now').

    The verb 'meld' only came to signify 'two separate parts becoming' one in the twentieth century. It's original meaning was to set down a hand of cards. Similarly many people object to the widely accepted usage of the verb 'transpire' to suggest 'come to pass' when it actually means 'become known'. It's also a botanical term, of course. Trying to insist on correct usage at all times is a bit like shovelling smoke - an exercise in frustration.

    H

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    Registered User Delta40's Avatar
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    Now when we quote we don’t use a verb at all! The cop’s like “You were speeding,” and I’m like “No way!” and he’s like “Let’s see your license and registration.” “Like” as a synonym for “says”? I don’t know about you, but I don’t “like” it!

    Lmao! A student from our local university was recently overheard saying, 'I'm sick of words! We should just, like, use different sounds instead or something to you know, communicate and stuff.'
    Before sunlight can shine through a window, the blinds must be raised - American Proverb

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    Card-carrying Medievalist Lokasenna's Avatar
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    Hmm. Just looked up 'reference' in the OED - it doesn't have a problem with it as a verb. It provides examples of the use of the word as a verb going right back to the 17th century. I think, therefore, we can accept it as part of the language.

    The verb 'to medal', on the other hand, is cretinous in the extreme.
    "I should only believe in a God that would know how to dance. And when I saw my devil, I found him serious, thorough, profound, solemn: he was the spirit of gravity- through him all things fall. Not by wrath, but by laughter, do we slay. Come, let us slay the spirit of gravity!" - Nietzsche

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    Quote Originally Posted by Lokasenna View Post
    Hmm. Just looked up 'reference' in the OED - it doesn't have a problem with it as a verb. It provides examples of the use of the word as a verb going right back to the 17th century. I think, therefore, we can accept it as part of the language.

    The verb 'to medal', on the other hand, is cretinous in the extreme.
    The arguments are petty. Ultimately all verbs come from nouns. The rhetoric of the monkey grammarian using verbs is very recent in the evolution of language. Referencing could be the act of engaging in preparing references for refering, for example. The librarian working at a reference desk could be referencing without refering any specifics.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Delta40 View Post
    Lmao! A student from our local university was recently overheard saying, 'I'm sick of words! We should just, like, use different sounds instead or something to you know, communicate and stuff.'
    Oh my God! (Or to use the vernacular-- OMG.)

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    I really think that "Verbing" nouns is okay given that grammatical rules, or whatever you call it, differs from time to time so I think that's okay.

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    the anxiety i experience about this is not really related to the changes in the language, which amuse or even delight me, but in the increased difficulty of mastering the complexities of the language for less competent users. to me as a first language english speaker who has grown up first compulsively and now obsessively consuming language, although i have never been taught formal grammar and apprehend my own imperfect understandings of it, these changes seem intuitively clear; i recognise them as a register, or a jargon of some sort, and i understand reasonably well such things as for example the ways in which language can be used to manipulate (i mean persuade) audiences. i feel bad for new language users who, picking up idioms or grammatical mutations through natural exposure, might easily confuse them with formal usage, and apply them to inappropriate circumstances, such as job applications (the sad reality is that people DO discriminate on the basis of language usage). and i worry about users who may have learned english from early language acquisition as their only language but simply do not have much of a natural interest in developing and exploring their literacy, and are abandoned by an education system that has rejected formal grammatical instruction, to those who might use language unscrupulously to confuse the real issues at stake. and so i guess i believe that grammar should be taught, with an emphasis not on prescription exactly, but in understanding and being able to use clear communication, and to approach pieces of language critically.

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