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Friday, January 7, 2011

Guest Post: Verbification

This is a guest post from Daniel Koontz, author of Quick Writing Tips and Casual Kitchen:

Don't tase me bro!

Sentences like this explain why grammarians suffer.

Of course, the verb to tase is a textbook example of a verbified noun. A strict grammarian would prefer shocked by a taser or subdued by a taser instead.

Unfortunately, both substitutes are wordy and unwieldy, and neither improves upon the original. It's also questionable whether tase is even incorrect. After all, common usage allows the word gunned or knifed, both of which are examples of verbified nouns.

So what's the rule? There isn't one--at least not a clear one that shows the boundary between proper grammar and sounding like a tool. You must rely on your own ear.

Many nouns have lately been pressed into service as verbs. Not all are bad, but all are suspect.
--Strunk & White, The Elements of Style


Westley said...

When I first read that sentence, I thought the focus was going to be on the missing comma before the direct address (a common issue in dialogue). I guess I've heard so many nouns "pressed into service as verbs" that I've unfortunately come to expect it.

Your mention of ‘gunned’ or ‘knifed’ brings up an interesting question. You can be ‘tased’ in the past, so currently you don’t want someone to ‘tase’ you, BUT you wouldn’t say that you don’t want someone to ‘gun’ you, would you?? (Avoiding having someone ‘knife’ you sounds fine, but not ‘gun’, why is that??)

Daniel said...

Westley, that is a great question, and I'm not sure there's an answer.

"Gunned" and "knifed" are now common parlance, so as far as I can tell there's no real reason why you shouldn't be able to say "don't gun me."

And yet, you can't. Such are the idiosyncracies of the English language.


Melinda Brasher said...

I've recently heard Grammar Police talking about the sin of using google as a verb. Example: "Hey, how do you spell googling?" "I don't know. I'll google. it." I personally like the verb. It's short and functional.

But what's all this with the "I heart you?" It doesn't even make sense. It's like "I stomach chocolate."

Anyway, it just goes to show that no matter what you say, some people will think it's wrong, and some people will think it's right. That's what makes language such an art.

profeclipse said...

If we were to actually press the noun into a verb, we would have to taser you...