How acceptable is verbing?

I am treading on shaky ground here, but as a writer and English teacher, it’s a topic I can’t ignore. There really isn’t any other word for it besides VERBING, which in itself, is turning a noun that isn’t used as a verb into a verb. That’s when nouns that do not have verb forms are used as verbs. One of the most common nouns that I have seen being used as a verb for quite a few years now is the word “gift”. People everywhere, including on the news, have been saying “gifted” not in the sense of the adjective that means “talented” but in the sense that means having been given something as a gift. For example, “He gifted her with a scarf.” What the heck was wrong with the verb “give” and all its tenses? “He gave her a scarf” means exactly the same thing. If you give someone something, it’s a gift. Take this other sentence: “It’s the season for gifting.” Whatever happened to the word “giving”? There was absolutely nothing wrong with the sentence “It’s the season for giving.”

Okay, I’ll look at it another way. You can say “giving” and come up with the image of someone passing out something–anything–to another person. When you say “gifting”, the image you come up with is someone handing a nicely wrapped present to someone else. Looking at it that way, I will very reluctantly admit that “gifting” suggests giving a present that’s prettily wrapped. It’s completely different from someone giving me a pair of scissors, giving me a piece of his mind, or giving me a disease. That said, I still can’t get myself to use “gift” as a verb.

Grammatically, many nouns have verb forms, and we don’t really give it a second thought. Some very few examples are research, produce, comment, fan, walk, sleep, cook, drink, etc. Nobody ever questions their dual functions as nouns and verbs. How did they ever gain that duality? I’m not going into that historical aspect of when they were first seen on record used as either noun or verb, although I’m sure there’s some linguistic study somewhere that does that.

That language is a dynamic form of communication is undeniable. If we still spoke English the way it was spoken during Chaucer’s time or Shakespeare’s time or even during the Victorian era, we would sound really strange–unless everyone still spoke exactly the same way. Grammar most likely was invented along with the standardization of everything else during the industrial era. People in control of things probably felt that they needed to standardize language so that it would be easier to understand across various borders, whether political, cultural, scientific, or even personal borders. Creating rules for how language should be structured and documenting those rules ensured clear understanding by the majority of people throughout the world. That standardization of language has given us a measure for deciding what is correct language or good writing. That said, language changes. It adapts to the times. New words are created and useless words become obsolete. This happens because of changes in lifestyles, in technology, thinking, and just about every area in life. A hundred years ago, the word ‘cellphone’ never existed; a little over a hundred years ago, the word ‘airplane’ did not exist; before it was ever invented, the word ‘laser’ was completely unknown. This list can go on and on. On the other hand, how many kids nowadays know what a ‘bustle’ is–and I don’t mean bustling about or hustle-and-bustle; how many people walk about carrying a ‘poke’ over their shoulder?; how many people keep an ‘inkhorn’ or use the word ‘ruth’ to mean the opposite of ‘ruthless’?; nobody calls a ‘thrift’ shop a ‘frippery’ anymore, nor does anybody say they’re having a ‘rejumble’ when they’re experiencing ‘acid reflux’.

Granted, many terms or words that are now obsolete are in  word museums because whatever they referred to is no longer in use, or a better, more scientific name has replaced it. Other words die because of political correctness, regardless of what they originally meant, and the extent of influence political correctness has on language nowadays is, I think, the far swing of the pendulum. But it is also that sensitivity, rational or not, that has given use new words or new meanings for words, such as ‘gay’.

If you were to ask me, I’d say use the words that are there. I think anyone who doesn’t even try to find the right word or the exact word, is just plain lazy. Even if you don’t know the word, there are all kinds of dictionaries and thesauri that you can refer to. Not having a computer isn’t even an excuse, because before online references, we had real ink-and-paper books! There is absolutely no excuse for not using the right word. Don’t even give me the excuse that you’re being creative by coining new words, because it does take a long process for words to be vetted and added to the official Oxford English Dictionary. Yes, there is a committee that studies  words, their usage, and how well they fill a need. More than any other language, English is a melting pot of languages, more so now that it is exposed to cultures all over the world. Many cultures have languages that have words for things that do not exist in the English-speaking world, or that have words more expressive or more suited to things than what they have been called so far. For instance, what is the big difference between ‘mountains’ and ‘boondocks’?

I am thoroughly appalled when people in media use words wrongly or invent new uses for words when there are more accurate words that already exist but just don’t happen to be in their vocabularies, because I have always believed in finding the right word. My exception is when a simpler word can be used, pick the simpler word rather than the more technical term. While I am a big advocate for using the right word, I am also a bigger fan of simplifying the language. I don’t mean reducing your vocabulary so that it’s at kindergarten level–unless you’re writing for that age group–but avoiding jargon, highly technical language, and 5-syllable words that have 2-syllable equivalents. Unless, again, the 5-syllable word is more exact and more picturesque than the 2-syllable equivalent.

If there really isn’t a word for what you want to say, then by all means, coin one. But don’t do it before you check out the dictionaries. And if you’re stumped and can’t find the right word, ask me! I love looking through dictionaries.




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