The Verbing of Nouns
by Cherie Tucker
Someone once said, “There is not a noun that cannot be verbed.” Consider these gems from actual writings. A student in my Practical Grammar for Editors class at the UW submitted a beauty about a shaving gel for women that has been “lotionized.” A letter told a client his meeting had been “calendared” for June 15. A restaurant stated it was “menuing salmon today.”
Of course, there are many words that do double duty as verbs and nouns, such as ship, mail, box, or vacuum. We don’t have trouble with reading or hearing them, but one thing writers never want is to have their words interrupt rather than further their prose. Writers agonize over word choice. When the right word comes, writers feel it. If, however, you use a word that you have rarely heard or seen in just that way before, stop before the thrill of pride in your cleverness washes over you to make sure the word isn’t just silly.
Sometimes these new twists make their way into the language by the overuse that becomes the familiar. Consider impact, which means “collision.” Today it is being used in place of affect, as in, “That agent’s rejection doesn’t impact me.” There is a lengthy “Usage Note” as well as a “Word History” in The American Heritage Dictionary Fourth Edition on this word. It states that “. . . fully 95 percent [of the Usage Panel] disapproves of the use of impact as a transitive verb in the sentence Companies have used disposable techniques that have a potential for impacting our health.”
You may feel that everyone understands what you mean when you use impact in place of affect, but writers must know the standard usages of words in order to deviate from them intentionally. For those in control of the language, the verbed noun can be a device for developing characters through dialogue. Years ago, a note left on my desk by the janitorial crew said, “My vacuum isn’t vacking, I’ll have another Wednesday nite.” That works.
Cherie Tucker, owner of GrammarWorks, has taught writing basics to professionals since 1987, presenting at the PNWA conference. She currently teaches Practical Grammar for Editors at the University of Washington’s Editing Certification program and edits as well. GrammarWorks@msn.com