By Catherine Welborn
Do you cringe when you hear people “verb” words: taking a noun or adjective and using it as a verb? “I heart __,” for example, is now a common phrase, despite the fact that “heart” was previously used exclusively as a noun.
I know a lot of nitpickers worry about the bastardization of the English language, but I’m not one of them. Whenever I hear someone complain about those kinds of issues, I think of William Shakespeare. Shakespeare—one of the most revered writers of all time—is credited with coining hundreds of words. (Some literary critics estimate thousands!)
Many of his “invented” words were simply modifications of known words, so they could be used as a different part of speech. Sound familiar? Here are a few of the words he’s credited with creating:
- To elbow. The noun existed, but he coined the verb version.
- To stomach. Again, the noun was already in existence.
- Tongue-tied. Both halves of this compound word existed, but he put them together for a new adjective.
- Laughable. Another adjective created from an existing verb.
All of those words are so commonplace now that I wouldn’t even think twice about using them. I imagine that “to heart” might be treated the same way in 100 years. Either that or it will fall off the radar completely.
If you’re about to correct someone who’s “verbed” a noun (or “nouned” a verb or “adjectived” a noun or anything like that), consider holding back unless either of these is the case:
- The writing is for a formal purpose. Playing with words is fine in casual settings, but avoid it in all official writing, such as monthly reports, newsletters to clients and emails to your boss.
- It obscures the message. If the new word confuses your audience or leads to miscommunication, don’t use it. Period.
How do you feel about “verbing” words (or messing around with parts of speech in general)? Have you noted any particularly funny examples?