Wednesday, January 27, 2021

This Is How We Verb


Don't know much about history. But I am always interested in the history of words: etymology (unless that's bugs). I want to know where a word has been for the last thousand years. And often, the derivation seems a little far-fetched. In fact, the word "derivation" itself either comes from the Latin for drawing out pus, or from the Vedic Sanskrit for tickling a water buffalo. Either way, you're left feeling kind of skeptical.

But maybe you shouldn't be. All bets are off in a language in which you can coin the word "pizzagate" and everyone knows it means "child molestation sex ring scandal involving Democrats operating in an imaginary Deep State." I mean, what the hell. From "pizza" meaning "pizza" and "gate" meaning "the third syllable of a Washington DC hotel that got burglarized by Republicans fifty years ago." A hundred years from now nobody looking up the derivation would believe it.

Derivations don't have to make sense. Take "homophobic." Some guy coined it in the '60s. We know what it's supposed to mean. I would quibble over "phobic" meaning "to be afraid of" since many so-called homophobes are not at all afraid of people they're pretty sure they can beat to a pulp. But also, "homo" comes from the Greek for "same." By rights, homophobic people should be people who insist on things not being too matchy-matchy, but that's not what it means. So we're left with someone who's afraid of homos. And I think that's kind of rude.

Or take "friendversary." Versus means "a turning." Anniversary is a year ("anno") turning (over). Friendversary should mean "the act of flipping your friend over" or "swapping out your shitty friends for whole new ones." But it doesn't. It comes from "friend" meaning someone you met through Facebook, and don't know, except that they have a cute cat. And "versary" means short for "anniversary." So a friendversary is a commemoration of the calendar date you moved into a virtual relationship with someone who has a cute cat.

While we're at it, that might have been the beginning of the wildly out-of-control new way to verb. Now you can "friend" someone and nobody bats an eye. I remember noticing it for the first time a few years back: "Let's festival!" the poster read, announcing the Gay Pride parade, featuring street-wide banners reading "THIS IS HOW WE PRIDE." And I thought: oh boy. This isn't going to be the last time we see this, especially in advertising. Sure enough, now you can also pizza, meaning eat a pizza. (It doesn't mean "molest a child like a Democrat" yet.) There's a pharmaceutical firm that likes to say "This is why we science." You can "brain better." I've also learned there is at least one way to "woman," and several wrong ways to "feminist."

There are definitely several wrong ways to feminist.

Sure, people have been "wintering" in Palm Springs for years, but things are getting out of hand. Is this vogue really something to celebrate? Should we cake?

It's all a little much, and irksome, as novelties can be. It is viewed by many as silly and contrived. And if you believe I am speaking less than forcefully, tough. That is simply how I passive voice construction.

53 comments:

  1. Well, nobody these days knows etymology (much less Latin or Sanskrit), so they don't take those things into account when neologisming. Most of these compounds are just put together from shortened forms of familiar words, etymological logic be damnationed.

    They're still ambiguous, though. I would have interpreted "friendversary" as a friend who is also an enemy (friend-adversary).

    "Homo" is actually Greek for "same", as "phobic" is Greek for "fearful of" (any word where the F sound is spelled PH is probably Greek). We all know what a bunch of homos the ancient Greeks were. "Homo" in Latin meant "man", as in "homo sapiens" or the ancestral hominid "homo erectus", a name which must have made the australopithecines snicker.

    You can winter in Florida or summer in Canada, but notice that you can't spring or fall somewhere, at least not in that sense. Those verbs are already "taken".

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    1. Right you are on the Greek--I'll edit that. I got mixed up with "homosexual" which is half Greek and half Latin and apparently was also a coined word from the 1800s. Thanks!

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  2. As Infidel pointed out, I, too, immediately thought that "friendversary" was a compound of friend and adversary. However, they already have the word "frenemy" covering that base.

    Another annoying new "verb" is adult, as in "Gee, it's hard to adult." Is it really that difficult to add a couple small words and say "Gee, it's hard to BE AN adult?"

    Or am I just old-personing?

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    1. Which reminds me of another thing Americans say "needed done" instead of needed to be done or needs to be done, or needs doing.

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    2. I like that, though. I think that's a Pittsburgh thing.

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  3. Is it just English or is it all the other languages, too? Infidel has posted a few alternate definitions of words on numerous occasions that actually make more sense when you break them down.

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    1. Most languages have different kinds of endings on different classes of words, which make it harder to change nouns into verbs and suchlike.

      Wordplay with neologisms does occur. In Turkish the word for "school" is okul, which is a mash-up of the Turkish root oku- meaning to learn, and the French word école, school. When the word was first introduced people thought it sounded a bit silly, but it has stuck. In French there's a style of slang called verlan which works by switching syllables around (like if you said "sonper" for "person") -- the name verlan is the word l'invers ("the opposite") with the syllables (pronunciation, not spelling) switched. So we're not the only ones who do this general kind of thing.

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    2. I could read this stuff all day long.

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  4. I love to passive voice, Murr. I plan to spring at home, this year, to get in more practice.

    Thanks for the romp. Miss Adams (my Latin teacher in the 1950s) would probably frown on some of our modern constructs.

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    1. "Probably?"

      I get a kick out of how if I ever put a language-peeve post in, I get a whole long thread of things we current old people are incensed by.

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    2. I don't believe I've ever moderned anything that would prompt onfrowncy from a teacher, even one who Latins for a living.

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  5. I don't know about the rest of it, but I'll never say "no" to someone who asks if we should cake.

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    1. I hear that today is National Chocolate Cake Day. So do your part, ya'll.

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  6. Language is constantly evolving (and is a fast evolver too) but lots of these words make me grump. Badly and sometimes loudly to anyone close enough to hear.

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    1. Maybe that's why my father was grumpy. He was a bit of a stickler.

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  7. A friend and I have added laking to our vocabulary, as in "I'm going to the lake", but said as "I'm laking." I've been annoyed with the recent use of hone, which traditionally meant to sharpen, but now is used as in "I'm honing in on insert subject". And the stupid adding or -cy to the end of perfectly good nouns to make nouns that mean the same thing. As in relevancy (relevance).

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    1. I'd have to look up relevance/relevancy in the good old OED to find when they were first used. Lots of times I think something's new and it really isn't. But I'm with you on honing. What they're trying for is "homing in" but more often than not they're not getting there. I think we've probably lost that battle, though.

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    2. The mere passage of time cannot normalcy such practices.

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    3. OK guys, I just looked it up. First use of relevance: 1787. First use of relevancy: 1561.

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    4. Unless they are honing their skills in whichever subject they are homing in on?

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  8. I stole a dictionary from high school because it had word origins in it.

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  9. Conflusticated. Grismal. Two words we use in our house when appropriate. I bet you know what they mean already.

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  10. I've been lost since the mid-90s when I went to yoga teaching training at an ashram. I have always loved made-up words but have no patience with people who don't understand how to use words. "It's all in how you language it" or "Please try to include full instructions in your languaging" were just a couple of ways in which my WASP instructors would bastardize the English language. My ESL Indian instructors put sentences together with elegance.

    You probably fooled some of the people here but you didn't fool me with that Vedic Sanskrit bullshittery.

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  11. That's the way to curmudgeon! :D

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  12. I'm guessing you already have a copy of Partridge's book _Origins_

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    1. I recommended it unreservedly. It would be right up your alley, or, as a Mrs. Malaprop I once worked with said without intended irony, "right up your area."

      When I was a boy I started pulling it off my parents' shelf and looking up random words, and loving it.

      When my wife and I were dating, I gave her (a reading teacher, trained as a linguist) a copy as a birthday present. When her bestie (who would later become the dean of the School of Education at Howard) heard about that, she told her "MARRY HIM!"

      By the time the internet age arrived and friends started sending emails packed with "interesting word origins," I had developed enough instincts to see at a glance that they were all made-up folk-etymology. (Out of several hundred, I was wrong about just one of them.) I always sent the lists back to whomever had sent them, with explanations of what was wrong with each item. They eventually quit sending me such things. One of them is still a friend, but another, who became a sTRUMPet, is not...

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  13. This trend of making nouns into verbs and using two word mashups to shorten them seems driven by cell phone texting. Texting contractions are already appearing in crossword puzzles. Can the dictionary be far behind?

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  14. A litigant on Judge Judy revealed that she had been "conversating" with someone.

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    1. Oh dear, someone said that 'conversating' had reached a level of acceptance that it was appearing in dictionaries. But perhaps they were just *gaslighting* me? :)

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    2. It's not like we haven't had "administrating" for a while.

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  15. It may be viewed by many as silly and contrived, but the longer it goes on the more accepted and normal it will become. Twenty or thirty years from now, correct speech may be completely lost to anyone under forty.

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    1. Whatever we think is correct speech probably wasn't a hundred years ago. It's an amazing thing.

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  16. I am reminded of Melania’s Be Best project. Was there no one to advise or help? Happily, it wasn’t around long enough to become a real issue. A bit like her announcement that she would tackle cyber bullying....for that one she could just start at home!

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    1. She probably writes the Best letters to the incoming first lady.

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  17. Hmmm. Some of these noun/verbs have been around so long we don't even think they're strange. We drink drinks, walk when we take a walk, fear fear, smile 😊 with smiles, nail with nails...

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  18. And the third root of the declension is....

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  19. Nobody talks about antidisestablishmentarianism anymore. It was all the rage as a word to say when I was younger.

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