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My Turn: Let’s transition away from the verbing of nouns

  • It feels like the English language is going up in flames. AP file



For the Monitor
Saturday, July 30, 2016

In the fifties, stern spinsters beat English grammar and usage into our heads till we could parse sentences in our sleep.

Those were also the days when, if you were college-bound, you couldn’t get sprung from high school without at least two years of Latin under your belt.

Later, when I taught high school English myself, I was pretty much feared and loathed, because I hammered grammar into my wards’ noggins, and warned them they would rue the day they scoffed at Latin, “that dead language.”

A former student who suffered mightily under my tutelage recently wrote me to say that he, too, taught high school English, and taught the way I taught, and by gum, no kid graduated without passing his class.

He added, dryly, that the official language of our country is now Grunt.

Grunt is indeed abroad in the land.

Everyone has, like, you know, “issues.” And we no longer have plain old floods, tornadoes, blizzards and hurricanes; we have “weather events.”

We have people who never learned pronoun cases saying things like “Chelsea gave Bill and I a big smile for Christmas.” We hear “different than” rather than “different from.” We have legions (even those who should know better, like people in the media) who ignore Latin and Greek plurals, using “media” and “criteria” and “phenomena” as singular forms. Some go so far as to say “phenomenas.”

And everywhere we see plurals punctuated like possessives: “We got the best pizza’s in town!”

Perhaps most egregious of all in Gruntland is the rampant verbing of nouns.

The perpetrators of this abomination butcher the mother tongue by saying things like, “We critique each other’s poetry,” “What are you referencing?” “Friend us on Facebook,” “Facebook your friends,” and “We text each other all the time.”

Now we don’t give gifts to people, we gift them. Or, if we get gifted with something we can’t stand, we foist the thing off on someone else. We regift him.

TV newscasters say, “Now let’s transition to the weather.” A swanky hospital here in New Hampshire boasts that their patients “love to message their health care providers.” Those are the health care providers that you are to partner with to decide if you will be advantaged by taking Ambien, or if taking it will transition you into a zombie-like event during which you eat your way through the larder, gnaw on a few table legs and end up careering around in your car while still sleep-walking. Who authors those damn drug ads, anyway?

I’ve been keeping notes; there’s more: “Cyber-voyeuring,” “Incent businesses to do more,” “Plate the food.” And even Obama – usually pretty good with the language – recently used the phrase, “Sequence into,” and said in reply to a question put to him by Barbara Walters, “We will transition to that.” On a food program: “We’ll be doing a piece on home cocktailing.” From someone commenting on C-SPAN: “Politicians like to demagog issues.”

And from my own son: “Sorry we couldn’t Skype you yesterday.”

Strunk and White must be churning in their shrouds.

(Jane Wingate lives in Strafford County. Her website is janewingate.com.)