From Cap'n Adam Hoden
If you don't listen to Harry Shearer's radio program, which is also available as a free podcast, you should at least give it a try. Since he seems to be impossible to contact through normal means--e-mail, telepathic astral projection, smoke signals, etc.--I shall post a minor quibble I have with something he said in this week's show as an open letter on this venerated blog.
Dear Mr. Shearer,
You recently complained, in your singularly entertaining way, about the trend of English nouns being used as verbs. Words like ‘spend’ and ‘ask’ are being repurposed to describe actions by those who do not have the patience to use words like ‘expenditure’ or ‘request.’
I too find nominalization irritating--in the same way that I find strolling through a field of thistles irritating--but, alas, a cursory examination of the history of the English language shows us this trend is completely consistent with the way in which English has always evolved. We, unfortunately, are the ones who are wrong.
English is an amazingly complex and adaptive language which is always kind enough to change itself to fit the times in which it is used. In this time of instantaneous mass communication through e-mail, text messaging, twitter, and the like, English adapts so very quickly to meet the demands put on it, that many of us our left behind.
Stephen Fry, a noted user of English and, I believe, an acquaintance of yours had this to say about us:
“If you don’t like nouns becoming verbs, then for heaven’s sake avoid Shakespeare; he made a ‘doing’ word out of a ‘thing’ word every chance he got. He tabled the motion and chaired the meeting in which nouns were made verbs. I suppose new examples from our time might take some getting used to. He ‘actioned’ it that day, for instance, might strike some as a verbing too far, but we’ve been sanctioning, envisioning, propositioning, and stationing for a long time, so why not ‘actioning’? ‘Because it’s ugly, whinge the pendents,’ but it’s only ugly because it’s new and you don’t like it.”
I still cringe when I hear ‘verbing,’ or split infinitives, or terminal prepositions, but I know full-well that these are simply not banned by the rules of English. We must, however, keep our irritation to ourselves. Admonishing people for using perfectly acceptable language just because we don’t like it is “Just the sort of nonsense up with which [Winston Churchill would] not put.”
Your faithful listener,
Clinton "Shovel Dick" Mathews
Fun fact: Everything we were taught in school is wrong.