The English language is always in a state of flux, and to me, that’s a good thing – it means it’s dynamic, not static; vibrant, not stagnant. It would be ridiculous if the language wasn’t keeping up with our constantly changing world. So as technology is continually being updated, new words need to be immediately coined to keep up, with jockeying among wordsmiths as to which newly coined term really nails it and how it should be spelled. Then watch the noun morph into a verb, the word change spelling (e.g., two words become one or hyphenated), or get pushed out in favor of a newer, better one.
Coining New Words
It’s kind of fun to watch the language change/transform with popular usage. For example, “internet” started out with a capital “I”: “Internet.” What’s up with that? We don’t capitalize terms like television, telephone, email, mail, text message, faxes, movies, newspapers or other means of communication, so why would internet need a capital? Fortunately, it seems logic has won out, as “internet” seems to have pretty much been downsized to a lowercase “i”, which makes so much more sense. Similarly, “Web site,” coined in 1992 according to Merriam-Webster, is now spelled as one word, without the cap: “website.” Makes sense to me! And “email” started out being spelled “e-mail” but the hyphen seems to have pretty much disappeared in popular usage. Smoother without, I think. And e-book (E-book, eBook, ebook) is still in a state of flux – which do you prefer? And why? Same with e-reader, etc.
According to Wired magazine’s Jargon Watch editor Jonathon Keats, the relatively new term “spam,” which has come to mean the unwanted, junk email that clutters our in-boxes, came from the brand name for Spam luncheon meat, which many consider to be junk food.
But is that really where the term came from? Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary has a different take on how we started using “spam” to mean junk or unwanted email or promotions:
"spam: unsolicited, usually commercial, e-mail sent to a large number of addresses. Origin of 'spam' – coined in 1994, from a skit on the British television series Monty Python's Flying Circus, in which chanting of the word 'Spam' overrides the other dialogue."
Another fairly new term is “crowdsourcing,” which combines the word “crowd,” a random collection of people, and “outsourcing,” a corporate practice of sending jobs abroad where wages are lower. It refers to a process where many people are solicited to complete a project, solve a problem, vote on an issue, etc. Wikipedia is also an example of crowdsourcing.
"Verbing" – Creating a Verb out of a Noun
And new verbs are constantly being coined from the noun form, like “googling” information to research a topic. (Evolving from “Googling” to “googling.”) Other verbs recently created from nouns are: to “friend” or “text” or “message” someone. Not to mention “defriending” and “unfriending.” Other verbs coined in recent years from nouns include partying, parenting, critiquing, trending, gifting, interfacing, bookmarking, dialoguing, tasking, accessing, impacting, actioning, progressing, showcasing, workshopping, transitioning, and even inboxing. Some seem right on, while others seem almost ridiculous to me, like using “signaturing” instead of the perfectly good, shorter “signing.” And I'm not crazy about “inboxing”… maybe it’ll grow on me.
How about verbs coined from the names of body parts?
In a single work day, we might head a task force, eye an opportunity, nose around for good ideas, mouth a greeting, elbow an opponent, strong-arm a colleague, shoulder the blame, stomach a loss, and finally hand in our resignation. - From “What is Verbing?” by Richard Nordquist
Nancy Tracy, in her article, “Are Verbs the New Nouns?” gives her take on this fast-growing phenomenon:
“From a Western perspective, verbs are active do-ers while nouns are sedentary couch potatoes. It's no wonder that in a society that favors movement and productivity, verbs are gobbling up nouns like so many dot-consuming Pacmen. Not only do we enable this linguistic alchemy, we actively encourage this practice as the language around us adapts to mirror the attitudes and biases that shape our worldview.”
Finally, a popular cartoonist’s take on this trend:
Calvin and Hobbes once discussed verbing in Bill Watterson's great comic strip:
Calvin: I like to verb words.
Calvin: I take nouns and adjectives and use them as verbs. Remember when "access" was a thing? Now it's something you do. It got verbed. . . . Verbing weirds language.
Hobbes: Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding.
How about you? What do you think of these trends? Creative or an abomination? Can you think of other hot-off-the-press terms I’ve missed here? Do you like them or dislike them, and why? And how do you spell “e-book”? “ebook”? Or…?
Copyright © Jodie Renner, March 2013
Jodie Renner is a freelance fiction editor who specializes in thrillers, mysteries, and other fast-paced fiction. Jodie publishes her craft-of-fiction articles here and on several other blogs. For more information on Jodie’s editing services and her books, please visit her website.
Jodie has published two books to date in her series, An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction: Writing a Killer Thriller, a short e-book, and Style That Sizzles & Pacing for Power, which is available in paperback, as an e-book on Kindle, and in other e-book formats. And you don’t need to own an e-reader to purchase and enjoy e-books. You can download them to your computer, tablet, or smartphone.