“Dictionaries are the arbiters of the acceptable parts of speech for each word. But adherence to the rules governing word class is on a sharp decline as people bend or ignore rules and adapt unconventional uses that spread through work environments like computer viruses.” (EditPros)
Mark Goodacre’s post on unnecessary abbreviations got me thinking about one of my bugaboos: the increasingly common (but wholly foul) practice of turning nouns into verbs. “Dialogue” is an example — whenever I hear “Let’s dialogue” it’s enough to make my piles burst — and “verbs” like “office”, “podium”, and “medal” don’t do my blood pressure any favors either.
I hate to sound like a linguistic fundamentalist, because the English language evolves like any other. Says EditPros: “About 20 percent of the verbs in English began their lives as nouns, and most don’t encounter much resistance on the way in.” That’s obviously true, and language will continue to evolve accordingly. But recently it’s been evolving a bit too casually and indiscriminately. In my view, if good verbs already exist to describe an action, there’s no need to dumb down our speech by fabricating pretentious verbs. And there are plenty of good verbs to convey what “dialogue”, “office”, “podium”, and “medal” are supposed to.
EditPros advises accordingly:
“Those who routinely apply nouns as verbs in defiance of convention defend it as a creative and time-saving practice. Many people who respect the conventions of the language still wince at such uses, however. Our advice: have fun fiddling with the language in casual conversation or informal notes, but adhere to semantic and grammatical rules in business communication if you want to be taken seriously by people who admire and respect propriety.”
But as these very advisors point out, the rules can be ambiguous. They offer a test for determining your ability to distinguish between legitimate and non-standard uses of the English language. Try it yourself. It’s a fun (though painful) exercise to see what horrific usages have become, or are becoming, acceptable. Of the following thirty, nine are acceptable, nine are improper, and twelve are questionable — “questionable” meaning there’s currently no clear answer; it all depends on whether you consult the Merriam-Webster OnLine Dictionary, American Heritage Dictionary or Oxford Online Dictionary.
1. The benefits office has identified several ways to INCENTIVIZE employees to reduce absences.
2. A disturbing DISCONNECT between the company’s product development policies and marketplace realities has become apparent.
3. The planning commission members excused themselves briefly from the city council meeting to CONFERENCE outside.
4. We will recycle that scrap metal, but we’ll LANDFILL the old logs.
5. The new purchasing procedures ADVANTAGE larger suppliers.
6. The Peace Corps’ campus representative will OFFICE in Thompson Hall and report to the director of international education.
7. The agency favors foster parent applicants who previously have PARENTED or cared for children in some capacity.
8. The organization’s attorney is WORDSMITHING a draft.
9. The agency is helping growers to TRANSITION to organic production.
10. Cooking contest rules state that chefs must SOURCE all of the ingredients within the county.
11. Sharon said she welcomes the opportunity to MENTOR children.
12. In our analysis, we are EFFORTING to determine the cause of the decline in water quality.
13. The report will BENCHMARK business processes, including average order processing time, average margins, inventory turnover and average sales per employee.
14. Ellen was TASKED to analyze the competition.
15. Each entry point in the building is ALARMED after business hours to detect unauthorized intrusion.
16. A team composed of senior officers was formed to hold an OFFSITE to discuss and recommend appropriate action.
17. The bank has begun TRIALING a new voice-recognition system to ease telephone account access for customers.
18. School administrators encourage parents to PARTNER with their child’s teacher.
19. We can help the company diversify by LEVERAGING our office leasing experience.
20. We must seek ways to NORM the data with other agencies that have conducted similar surveys.
21. The police department rerouted traffic until construction crews UPRIGHTED the fallen crane.
22. He REFERENCED a previous variance granted in 1996 that authorized 15-foot setbacks.
23. After making their presentation, the consultants DIALOGUED with interested business owners.
24. Do not SEWER melted agar, which will congeal and then clog the pipes.
25. Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay were the first people to SUMMIT Mt. Everest.
26. The underwater seismic survey was PURPOSED to delineate faulted zones and evaluate the physical properties of the bedrock.
27. Frank, can you STATUS us on the fund-raising campaign?
28. If you were not the instructor for the last lesson, please INTERFACE with the previous instructor before class starts.
29. She ARCHITECTED Web-based content management, electronic learning and electronic commerce systems for dozens of companies.
30. The legislation will SUNSET the state Acupuncture Board, and replace it with a bureau within the Department of Consumer Affairs.
See EditPros for the answers. It’s good to know that “to office” is still unacceptable, but there are enough ambiguities here (like “mentor” and “dialogue”) to make my blood congeal. The dumbing down of our nouns indeed.