What to do when you’ve been ‘verbed’

The process by which a noun becomes a verb is part of the language’s evolution, but sometimes the resulting word just sounds silly—and better options often exist already.

I received an email in which the sender used “PowerPoint” as a verb. “Send me a detailed outline and I’ll PowerPoint it for you.” Oh, the humanity. Verbing, verbification, or denominalization is the process of turning nouns into verbs. It’s a perfectly natural process. As linguist Steven Pinker says, “Easy conversion of nouns to verbs has been part of English grammar for centuries; it is one of the processes that make English English.” Today, we all Google, text, friend, blog, and bookmark. Verbing is how language evolves, but sometimes the results are ridiculous—particularly when verbs are created from nouns that were verbs in the first place, or when there is a stronger, more precise verb available.

The following examples of verbing make my head ache: Conversate I have no idea where conversate came from, but I have seen it used in a few corporate emails. Has the verb converse been forgotten? Questionable: Maybe we should try to conversate with Bob instead of sending an email. Better: Maybe we should try to converse with Bob instead of sending an email. Conference Similar to conversate, the original verb form is confer. Questionable: We need to conference with John before the meeting. Better: We need to confer with John before the meeting. Dialogue Wouldn’t it be easier just to use talk? Questionable: Let’s sit down and dialogue about the new style guide. Better: Let’s sit down and talk about the new style guide. Gift Gift has been used as a verb for centuries, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. Today its use as a verb is quite common, but it still makes me cringe. Give is a perfectly acceptable verb. Questionable: I will gift you a new Lego set for your birthday. Better: I will give you a new Lego set for your birthday. Impact I was taught in college never to use impact as a verb, but today, impact as a verb is more acceptable. Most dictionaries list “to affect or influence” as a definition of the verb impact, though some state it is not preferred usage. I always change it in the content I edit. Questionable: Your feedback can impact the board’s decision. Better: Your feedback can influence the board’s decision. Other alternatives to impact include: affect, alter, change, impress, act on, relate to, impinge on. In place of the increasingly common phrase negatively impact, try hurt or some appropriate synonym. Similarly, help or enhance are superior alternatives to positively impact.

PowerPoint No. No. No. A thousand times no. Questionable: Send me a detailed outline, and I’ll PowerPoint it for you. Better: Send me a detailed outline, and I’ll create a PowerPoint presentation for you. Signature Perhaps using signature instead of sign will make you sound more important. Questionable: I’ll signature those expense reports. Better: I’ll sign those expense reports Readers, which examples of verbing drive you to drink? Laura Hale Brockway is a medical writer and editor from Austin, Texas. Read more of her work at www.impertinentremarks.com.


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