Verbs and verbiage

“Since when did transition become a verb?”

This comment by a reader inspired me to devote this post to the practice of coining verbs from nouns – or verbing, if you will. Like the pace of change itself, verbing seems to be gaining momentum in our insta-com era. Come to think of it, the word blog had scarcely taken off as a noun before it became a verb, not to mention spam and text.

Then there’s parent. Neither my parents nor my friends parents parented, they merely fed, clothed and punished us. And yes, provided a listening ear on occasion. I have to wonder: did our current preoccupation with the inner lives of the diaper set give rise to the verb parent, or the other way around?

Some coined verbs make me smile, like bird, and others impress me with their freshness. The verb gold knocked my socks off when I encountered it in a poem, in a sentence about the sun’s slanted rays golding the rooftops (or something like that). The author of the poem could have used the perfectly serviceable verb gild, but I thought her choice had more muscle.

For the most part, however, coined verbs have the irritating whiff of officialdom around them. I can’t remember when the verb impact first reached my ears, but I’m pretty sure it was at a business meeting. Since that time, the business world has spawned such wince-worthy verbs as workshop (“Let’s workshop that idea!”), vision (“Here’s a visioning exercise before we get started on the actionables.”), and yes, transition.

Perhaps it’s the very fact that these coinages arose in the corporate world, which is not exactly known for its terse or sparkling use of language, that makes them so grating. I can just see the look of smug satisfaction on the middle manager’s face as he announces to his captive audience of Dilberts, “The national figures have been trending upward.” Believing he sounds smart and official, rather than merely officious.

I remember reading a newspaper clip in which the writer, whose unapologetically formal prose brought Victorian sitting-room chairs and quill pens to mind, bemoaned the use of the “new” verb contact in all the unsolicited mail she received. I just hope she’s no longer alive today.

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6 Responses to Verbs and verbiage

  1. V. says:

    Oh, yes!
    Here are just a few words that I find most cringe-worthy: learnings, impact (as a transitive verb), and emergent (meaning ’emergency’).

  2. Laura says:

    How about the verbs incent, task, friend, and unfriend? Hate them all.

  3. Oh yes, I’d forgotten about incent. Another prime offender…

  4. My favourite noun-turned-verb (verbed noun?) is “tasked.” I very much disliked it when I was “tasked” to do something – even when the task itself was perfectly acceptable.

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