“Does verbing impact the language?” he asks.

I’m just starting to scenic my model railroad.

Yeah, I know, using the adjective “scenic” as a verb is startling at first. I still don’t like it, though it has become standard. But let’s look at it in context. My favorite Canadian linguist, James Harbeck, considers the big picture in his article “Does verbing impact the language?” As a professional linguist (therefore descriptive, not prescriptive), he tells us what’s going on without wringing his hands over the sad state of English. Good for him!

Because Harbeck is not only a professional linguist but also a good writer, he prefers to show rather than tell. So, along with giving a lecture, he sneaks in a couple of dozen English words along the way — all used by Harbeck perfectly naturally as verbs, but originally these were other parts of speech. The point, of course, is that we are accustomed to those words, and therefore it no longer grates on us that they have been verbed: who would object to comment, protest, like, … as verbs? Do you object to the word object in the previous sentence?

Read the whole short article, and you’ll see what I mean. And ponder this claim that Harbeck makes but doesn’t defend:

When we take dislikes to words, it’s almost always related to our ideas of the people who use them.

I wonder. Maybe he’s right. I doubt it, but it’s worth considering.





Categories: Linguistics