Verbing Weirds Language

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Calvin and HobbesVerbification, or verbing is the turning of nouns into verbs. This is often fine and useful. I find it much easier to instruct someone to Google a word than to “look it up on a search engine.” And Google is more than just useful; it’s a pleasant word to say. Oh, sure, I understand the complaint that a gargantuan private corporation unduly benefits when its brand name becomes part of the lexicon, but what can you say? Google changed the culture. They earned the right to become a verb.

And verbification can be a legitimate way for language to evolve and grow. You can argue, for example, that access, as a verb, is a useful addition to the language. I can live with that. And popular verbification has given us verbs like mail, strike, salt, pepper, switch, sleep, ship, train, stop, drink, cup, lure, mutter, dress, divorce, fool, and merge.

The problem comes when verbification transforms perfectly good nouns into perfectly awful and unnecessary verbs. Corporate America is the worst culprit. Instead of providing incentives, years ago companies began to incentivize. Now they talk about the dangers of disincentivizing.

When my aircraft pulls up to the gate at airports these days I am deplaned. At restaurants, my food gets plated (I wonder why my drinks aren’t cupped or my soup bowled). People used to engage in dialogue. Now they just dialogue. Friends no longer enjoy fellowship, they simply fellowship (this one bugs me in particular because the suffix –ship is meant to denote a noun). You used to have an impact. Now you can simply impact something.

New words like access and Google don’t bother me. These words are not only convenient, they are pleasing to the ear, or at least inconspicuous. But throwing an -ize, -ing, or -ate onto a noun form is almost always ugly and unnecessary. Here are some examples of useless, discordant business verbing:

concretize     “We concretized the design”
rightsize         “Stan lost his job when HQ rightsized last May.”
actioning       “Don’t pester me, I’m actioning the strategy.”
anonymize   “Before you submit our proposal, you might want to anonymize it.”
monetize        “The plan looks good, but let’s monetize it first.”
solutioning   “What this department needs is some solutioning.”
leveraging      “We need to leverage our core competencies.”

And, yes, I am aware that to verbify and to verb are themselves examples of verbification. It’s an intentional irony–get it?

An old Calvin and Hobbes strip dealt with this issue and concluded with the characteristically witty line: “Verbing weirds language.” Click here to see it.

(Thanks to David Sims for this post idea.)

About the Author

Brian Wasko

Brian WaskoBrian is the founder and president of WriteAtHome.com. One of his passions is to teach young people how to write better.View all posts by Brian Wasko

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