The phenomenon of ‘verbing’ – turning a noun into a verb – is not new, but with trending and friending now commonplace in the English language, even civil servants have it muddled according to Michael Gove. Let’s ‘table’ a discussion.
A transitioning language
The English language is in an endless state of flux. The only consistency is that it is consistently changing. New words are created for things which did not previously exist, while others are simply transformed. The etymological conversion of nouns into verbs has been a part of English grammar for centuries, but technology today means that any changes in language are posted, blogged, shared, emailed, tweeted, pinned and instagrammed before you’ve even opened a dictionary.
Golden Rules and grammar guidelines
While most people think that verbing is just a clever evolution of language, there are still passionate activists for traditional grammar. Lord Chancellor Michael Gove, the new justice secretary, is one of them and he’s ‘actioning’ change. A comprehensive list of “Ministerial Correspondence Preferences”, shared with his senior civil servants, outlined detailed instructions on how to ‘grammar’.
An update to his “10 Golden Rules” issued to staff when he was education secretary, the latest guidelines follow his strictly conservative form. And there seems to be a lot of support for his rule on verbing, specifically to NEVER use the word ‘impact’ as a verb. But is it actually wrong? The granddaddy of dictionaries, the Oxford English doesn’t think so, and if it is then people have been getting it wrong since the early 1600s.
‘Shouldering’ the blame
There appears to be a common misconception that the word ‘impact’ is just another example of verbification bamboozling the traditionalists who prefer to write rather than blog, and review rather than critique. But this may not be the case with ‘impact’. Some research even shows that it was actually a verb before it was a noun.
Either way, we may have to ‘stomach’ the loss of the traditional English language. It’s clear that outside of our little refuge of linguistic purity, verbing is developing its own rules of syntax. Not every coinage will pass into general use, and with luck, some will be saved. But as for trying to end verbing altogether, I doubt it’s something even Michael Gove can ‘incentivise’.