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Verbing – one kind of copywriting creativity

Ever since people have been writing, they’ve been turning nouns into verbs. People who write for a living get distressed about it, people who write ‘normally’ aren’t that bothered, and eventually we absorb them into everyday language.

I’ve discovered some new ones recently, but I’ve also found out that most British people between 30 and 50 don’t know what nouns and verbs are. That’s because some British teachers of our beloved language decided that grammar held back creativity and voted not to teach it. So just in case you missed out at school, nouns are things and verbs are doing words.

Our evolving language

Words like iron, film, email, photograph, highlight, dress and polish all sound normal as verbs now, but they’re all nouns too. We iron jeans (with an iron), film documentaries (to make a film), email our colleagues (an email) and so on – you get the picture.

Here are some relatively new verbs from nouns:

  • to inbox (to send someone an email)
  • to blog
  • to source
  • to format
  • to action
  • to progress
  • to transition
  • to reference
  • to trend

The Oxford English Dictionary has just released their picks for the top words of 2012. The US dictionary plumped for the verb to GIF (to create a GIF file of an image or video) – coming straight from the GIF file name. And the UK choice was for omnishambles, but gave much thought to the verbs to medal and to podium, in light of the recent Olympic fervour. Verbs from nouns in the spotlight again.

Let’s sunrise it

We might hate some of these and their ugliness now (to podium?), but in 40 years’ time no one will notice.

Having said all this, I draw the line at ‘to sunset’. I picked this one up a couple of weeks back in a workshop. It means to end, stop, finish, draw to a close. It was our client’s least favourite word of the moment.

Perhaps we could say ‘the sun’s set on that one’ in a rather poetic way, but to turn sunset into a new scrap of businesses jargon? Is nothing sacred? Well, no.

So just for fun I started to use sunrise as a verb to wind her up a bit. That’s how it starts, and once the verb genie is out of the bottle it’s not going back. Why does it happen? Because nouns that turn into verbs tend to mean we can cut out a few words and speed things up. They might be ugly but they’re useful. Like Tetrapaks.

I can’t find the source, but I heard this on Radio 4 in the 80s: ‘there ain’t nothing that can’t be verbed.’ Hate to say it, but it’s probably right.


What do you think?

Are there any verbs you hate hearing? Tell us – here’s your chance to get things off your chest.

  1. Sean Tyler says:

    For me, to medal and to podium were the curse of this summer’s Olympics.

    But the abominations go the other way too, from verbs to nouns. I once heard a football pundit highlight a player’s unmarked appearance in the penalty area as ‘a great arrive’…

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