On Verbing

Most of the time, when people protest about the way the English language is abused, it’s a case of the language continuing to evolve as it has always done.

One such example is the practice of verbing, which takes the noun form of a word and transforms it into a verb form… like ‘verb’ and ‘verbing’. 

Just last week, I was talking with a friend about how annoying she finds it when people say “I’m going to action that.” I’m sure she sought me out for the conversation because I’m both a word nerd and an English teacher. 

“Action is a noun! A bloody noun! How can so many otherwise intelligent people get that wrong?”

“It grates on us because it’s recent,” I said. “We’ll get used to it.”

“No, I won’t! It’s just wrong!”

“You know Shakespeare did it?”

“What?” 

“Verbing. He did it all the time.”

“You and your Shakespeare. It’s like he’s the answer to everything.” 

“You know he invented the word ‘friending’, right?”

She rolled her eyes and walked away. She didn’t even flinch at my use of the term “verbing”, which is exactly the same thing as “actioning” in terms of the language. After all, ‘verb’ is a noun, too. 

It is the recent examples of verbing, such as “actioning” an idea, that we notice because we’re not used to hearing them yet. When Facebook was new, people complained the same way about “friending”, but these days nobody thinks twice about that. At some point in time, someone decided that it was okay to talk about bottling  fruit, or shelving books, and now those terms are just everyday language. 

It is also true, however, that some things people commonly say are, quite simply, wrong

My pet peeve is when my students are talking about sport or some other kind of competition, and they say “We versed Team X”. 

This is a common bastardisation of the Latin versus, which means ‘against’. It is commonly used for sporting matches and legal cases, and is generally abbreviated as v. or vs., as in Black v. White or Blue vs. Red. 

My first response is always to ask whey they wrote poetry about another team. “You played them. You opposed them. You clashed with them. You competed with them. You did not write poetry about them.” Then I explain how the different words work, and what they actually mean. 

The reason “versed” is wrong is because the words ‘versus’ and ‘verse’ have absolutely nothing to do with each other. Because ‘against’ is a preposition, it simply doesn’t make sense to say “We againsted them”. It is not verbing, by any stretch of the imagination. 

The first time we have that conversation, they look at me with confusion. Some have a glazed look of fear, like the proverbial deer caught in the headlights. This never fails to entertain me. The second and third times, they roll their eyes.

Over time, the tedium of having the same grammar-nerdy conversation persuades them to start using the language correctly. They learn, I win, and so does the English language. 

When Marking Exams Is Enjoyable.

These students prove that exams can be positive learning experiences.

Am I supposed to enjoy marking exams quite so much?

These kids are awesome!

Preparation: Who Needs It?

There’s always at least one in every group who doesn’t follow instructions.

Last Friday, I gave my History class an essay question half a week in advance of their assessment task.

They were to prepare a plan and notes to use while writing the essay in class this week. I advised them that they could use their handwritten notes and their textbook while writing, but they were not allowed the use of any devices. All the information about the task was given to them in writing as well as my explaining everything in class.

I expected that today, when the students came to class, they would be ready to start. Happily for me, most were.

And then, because nothing ever goes smoothly, this happened:

Student A: “Can we type this?”

Me: No. No devices.

Student B: “My notes are at home. Can I use my iPad?”

Me: “No. No devices.”

Student C: “Can you write the question on the board please?”

Me: “I gave you the question on Friday.”

Student C: Yeah but I didn’t write it down.

Me: That makes me happy.
Bemused, I wrote the question on the board.

Student B: “What page is it in the textbook?”

Me: “Do you mean the pages you were supposed to read and study last week?”

Student B: “Yeah.”

Me: Speechless, I allow The Eyebrow to speak for me.

All the kids except two commenced writing. Students B and D, though? They’re still reading the textbook.

Wasn’t Expecting That. 

I just asked a Year 10 student to turn his music off while he was working on a history presentation that is due tomorrow. 

He said, “I bet you don’t even know that song.”

“I might,” I answered. “What song was it?”

“The Battle of New Orleans” by Johnny Horton. 

Whoa. 

That stopped me.  This kid must have digitized his grandfather’s old record collection.

“I do, actually.”

Then he sang, “We fired our guns and the British kept a-comin’…”

And I sang, “There wasn’t nigh as many as there was a while ago!”

He thought that was pretty cool, I guess. Then I asked him how much he wanted me to tell him about the War of 1812.

It’s incredible how suddenly kids can become motivated to work on the assignment that is due tomorrow. I wish I knew how that happened. 

No correct answer.

This morning my students were laughing as they told me the story about the black eye one young lady among them is sporting, due to accidentally being hit on the bridge of the nose with a spoon by another student. 

The wielder of the spoon got to the point where he was laughing uncontrollably.

“It’s because I’m a comic genius, isn’t it?” I asked him.

Still laughing, he looked at me and almost said no, then stopped himself.

“You know, there’s no correct answer to that question!” said the student next to him.

The laughter stopped, and he said, “Yeah, I’m just not going to say anything.”

I win. 

Comic genius, it is.

Out of the mouths of… teenagers.

My Year 10 English class studied John McCrae’s WWI poem “In Flanders Fields” yesterday. In our discussion, we contrasted it with some of the more brutal poetry about the war that we’ve been studying, such as Wilfred Owen’s “Dulce Et Decorum Est”.

When I asked them what we could learn from the contrasts in the poetry.
one student answered, “Canadians are awesome and generally more polite about things than the English!”

Sorry, English people. He’s getting an A+.

Why Pronunciation Matters #43

While teaching senior high school can be challenging, I have often found it to be highly entertaining. 

This morning in my  Year 12 English class, I was in the process of assigning roles for my students to read as part of our study of Bertolt Brecht’s play “Life of Galileo”.  

Student 1: “Can I be Galileo?”

Me: “Sure! Any other requests?”

Student 2: “I’ll be the Doge.”

Student 3: “That’s pronounced ‘douche’!”

General laughter ensued. 
What a great way to start a Friday.

Man, I love those guys! 

My favourite.

In class just now:

Student: “Can we please put some music on?”

Me: “No.”

Student: “Even if you choose it?”

Me: “No.”

Student: “But I want to know what music you like.”

Me: “I like lots of different types of music.”

Student: “What’s your favourite song right now?”

Me: “The sweet sound of people working on their history assignments.”

Student: “Oooh, I’m going to look that up!”

Me: Sigh. 

I tried.

From time to time, teachers are asked to cover lessons for colleagues who are absent for some reason. 

Today I had the privelege of covering a Y10 Health and Human Development class.
They could have been discussing exercise, nutrition or health… but, no.

That would have been waaayyy  too easy. They had to be learning about male and female body parts and their functions. 

While I was busy asking myself why these lessons always seem to be handed to me, I was interrupted by a student asking a question.

Student 1: “What’s the cervix again?”
Student 2: “It’s the trapdoor thing that stops the baby coming out.”

Wait. The what??

Very diplomatically, I suggested he might like to look things up in a dictionary, or at least the printed notes they had been given to read and highlight. I don’t think he did, though. 

A little later, Student 1 had another question: “Are the uterus and the urethra the same thing?”

Again, I pointed him to the printed notes and the dictionary.

“How is that going to help me?” he asked. 

“How indeed?”  I thought to myself. 


I’m sorry, Miss K.  I tried.