My latest column for the Visual Thesaurus takes a look at how nouns become verbs – and vice versa – in the language of commerce and elsewhere. If you’ve seen ads inviting you to beauty, to movie, or to pumpkin, you’ll know what I mean. But what about to gift, to share, and to contact? All began their lives as nouns before being undergoing the process known as functional shift or anthimeria (and not without controversy, in some cases).
Access to the column is open to all this month! Here’s an excerpt:
Although the examples I’ve cited here are recent, the phenomenon is not. “Flaubert me no Flauberts. Bovary me no Bovarys. Zola me no Zolas,” the novelist Thomas Wolfe wrote to F. Scott Fitzgerald in 1937. “And exuberance me no exuberances. Leave this stuff for those who huckster in it...” Facebook may have popularized to friend (the verb has been in widespread use since about 2005), but friend had occasionally been used as a verb since the 1200s, according to the OED. Four and a half centuries before there were mobile text messages, to text meant “to write in text letters” – the large writing used by clerks in the body of a manuscript. (The past-tense form of text still stymies many people. For the record, it’s texted. As linguist Arnold Zwicky pointed out in 2008, “Verbing has always weirded [not weird] language.”)
Where would we be without “Calvin and Hobbes” and that immortal “verbing weirds language” line?
Read the rest of “Branding Weirds Language.”
A few blog extras:
In her 2003 book Dewdroppers, Waldos, and Slackers: A Decade-by-Decade Guide to the Vanishing Vocabulary of the 20th Century, Rosemarie Ostler observes that “the usual trickle of words from one category to the other became a flood in the 1990s.” Among the newly verbed nouns from that decade: to privilege, to transition, to workshop, to guilt, to effort, to source, and to task.
And don’t forget adulting!