Come on baby, verb my noun*

In the post FaceTime Me, previously featured on WordGeeks, we visited the linguistic process of verbifying: turning a noun into a verb. It’s interesting to note that of course “verbifying,” as well as its a.k.a., “verbing,” is an example of…verbifying. So, of course, is the just-mentioned-in-my-last-post brandifying trend of naming a business or service or app by adding “ify” to the end of a noun or other word.

Because turnaboutifying is fair play, now we are going to touch on nominalization, or “nouning” (but not “nounifying”? Why not?), the process of turning a verb or other part of speech into a noun. (It occurs to me that the expression “pimp my ride” is a neatly encapsulated case of verbing a noun and nouning a verb—and lo, it was the title Ben Yagoda wanted to give to his book on the parts of speech.)

Some simple examples of words that function both as verb and noun: you can swing on a swing, walk on a walk, and watch your step when you step on that step. There are quite a few such “double duty” words in English. Jonathan Marks on the Macmillan Dictionary Blog says “usually the noun came first and was subsequently verbed.”

The process by which a word transforms from one part of speech to another part of speech without changing form is called “functional shift” or “zero derivation,” (the sorts of terms I’m sure you all the time find the need to be bandying about in casual conversation). Functional shifts, verbing, and nouning regularly provoke skirmishes in the battle between the prescriptivists and descriptivists (a topic for discussion for another day).

Another kind of nouning, however, occurs when you take a word like “occupy” and make “occupation” (or, for that matter, turn “prescriptive” into “prescriptivism”). Nouning is an easily parodied plague of academic-speak, and yet there are also plenty of cases where verbing a noun or nouning a verb brings a useful new word or word function into the language: “text me” is more efficient than “send me a text.”

For more on this topic:

Zombie Nouns” by Helen Sword in The New York Times
The Redemption of Zombie Nouns” on Language Log
About verbing and nouning, on the Macmillan Dictionary Blog
Ben Yagoda on “pimp my ride
Stan Carey on prescriptivism and descriptivism on the Sentence First blog

*and another observation: in the lyric referenced here, “come on baby, light my fire,” both “light” and “fire” are double-duty words (although “fire” the verb doesn’t mean “to start a fire,” though on the other hand you do “fire” pottery).

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1 thought on “Come on baby, verb my noun*

  1. Pingback: Come on baby, verb my noun*: Entertaining look at modern language development. « postmoderndonkey

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