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. 

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Opposites Attract.

This is what happens when you marry a book nerd.

We live in a small town where my husband knows absolutely everyone.

This morning as we drove down our road, he commented on a block of land that sold recently.

Him: Somebody named Finch bought that block.

Me: Was it Atticus?

Him, suddenly doubtful of his local knowledge: I don’t know.

Me: Never mind. Probably wasn’t.

This is what happens when you don’t read anything but live with a book nerd. Poor bloke.

A random conversation.

Tonight, an impromptu conversation occurred when a friend messaged me out of the blue.

Friend: Power went out.
Me: That’s no good.
Friend: Pedalling my bike now. LMAO.
Me: Haha. Not sure you meant to message me, though.
Friend: Scared my dog though… Oh. Sorry! Hugs.
Me: No problem, mate. Actually, I think this has been one of my favourite conversations all night.
Friend: hehehehehehehe
Me: Do you mind if I blog it? Names changed, of course.
Friend: Sure thing. Looks like the storm is about to hit here. Gonna be a yuck night for sleep.
Me: Yep.
Friend: It’s still hot out. About 24 outside. It’s horrible.
Me: Yeah, here too.

And that was all. Completely normal.