How do you feel about ‘verbing’? It’s something we touched on in our news round-up recently, and no, it’s not rude – it’s the increasingly well-recognized practice of creating a verb out of a noun, like ‘google’, ‘tweet’, ‘text’, or ‘friend’. And it causes a lot of controversy.
Many of the words spawned this way are technology-related, and that’s no surprise, given that technology is one of the fastest moving elements of our society, and language has to keep up. The creation of new verbs from nouns is one of the ways in which it does this: as we become increasingly technological, so does our language. No surprise either, then, that the American Dialect Society chose ‘tweet’ as the Word of the Year for 2009 and ‘google’ as Word of the Decade.
Purists dislike verbing though, arguing that a verb created from a noun isn’t a real verb. Some think it’s a lazy way of creating new words, or that it’s too similar to the (admittedly annoying) business jargon that plagues us all. Others claim it dilutes brand names and hence affects that most sacred of things – the corporate wallet.
I like it however. There’s a dynamism to this kind of language creation that reflects the dynamism in other areas of social and cultural development. Nothing in life is truly static, after all, and nor should it be. As Michael Rundell has pointed out previously, English is particularly well suited to this kind of language creation and it means we get to see a steady stream of new and interesting verbs that would otherwise never exist.
Many of these new verbs (and, of course, the nouns they stem from), start life as brand names – e.g. Google and Facebook – and as I said, many argue that using them this way dilutes the brand. Executives at Xerox even go so far as to try and educate the world to say ‘photocopy’ rather than ‘Xerox’ papers. I don’t think it necessarily does dilute the brand though; in some senses I think it gives the word (and hence the brand) an element of longevity it wouldn’t normally have. Take, for example, ‘Hoover’ – this started life as a brand name vacuum cleaner over 100 years ago. It was the market leader for many years, but despite losing that vaunted position some time ago, it stays in the public consciousness simply through the number of people who still use the verb ‘to hoover’ as opposed to ‘to vacuum’. And the people who use it in this way still remember why.
If I were the chief executive of, say, Google, I’d be quite pleased by the fact that people tend to use my brand name instead of the more generic ‘search’, since it would suggest (in my own, corporately-self-centred world view) that mine was the only search engine out there. The same would go for Xerox et al.
It can all go a little bit too far though; even I can’t swallow login as a verb.Email this Post