Grammar Guide #7: Nouns Gone Wild
The English language is continually evolving. New social situations, new inventions and new trends create the need for new language to describe them. However, that evolution is not restricted to the invention of new words. More often we see existing words used in new ways, for example nouns being used as verbs. This “verbalization” or denominalization, as grammarians call it, is not new but it does seem to be on the rise.
A decade ago, a friend was something you cherished, not an action you took. An architect was someone who designed and supervised the construction of buildings, not the event of actually building or creating something. Sure, a doctor can doctor and a conductor can conduct, but that doesn’t mean a scientist can science. The verbing of nouns has simply gone wild.
I’m not saying that I am completely against the etymology of words in this fashion, but verbing—especially in business writing—can have a mutilating effect at times. Take whiteboard for example. A whiteboard is a shiny white surface that you can wipe clean after writing on it or drawing on it. It is not something you do. It is something you use for illustrating ideas or other information. You can draw pictures, charts or graphs on a whiteboard. You can even brainstorm on a whiteboard, but you can’t whiteboard on a whiteboard. Even Hobbes understood the downside of verbing as illustrated in this Calvin and Hobbes comic:
I suppose it is not a huge sin to bookmark a web page, but would you rather interface with someone or have a conversation with him? In this example, verbing dehumanizes the language, making it sound more like something Hal 9000 would say instead of a person. And, indeed, verbing is often the result of a lazy writer or speaker. So if you want to sound like someone who is well educated, authoritative and amiable, please verb your nouns with care.