How acceptable is verbing?

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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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The Problem with Praise (or, My Case Against ‘Perfect’)

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As a substitute teacher, I have observed teachers, especially in the elementary school level, lavish words of praise on students for nearly everything they say or do. I have heard showers of “excellent!” and “perfect!” and “great job” more often than anything else, even if the answer or action was not truly excellent or perfect or great.

Do these people know what these words mean? Mr. Webster will tell us that “excellent” means of exceptional quality, something superior to others, something that, to be redundant, “excels” — stands out over all others. Synonyms for “perfect” include flawless, faultless, without error, with no room for improvement. “Great” also means esceptional, superior, above the rest, excellent.

Now I ask: How often does one come across “excellent” and “perfect” everyday? And is every effort or action a “great job”? If this were truly the case, then teaching in schools would be the perfect job and practically effortless. Teachers would actually become redundant, if students were all as “excellent” and “perfect” and alsways doing a “great job” as often as I hear it said.

I think teachers need to expand their vocabularies in the praise department. in the same way we encourage students to find other words for “good,” “nice,” “okay,” and “so-so”, we need to find other words to express praise or approval. There are so many I can think of: awesome, wonderful, well-organized, colourful, attractive, well done, good work, nice technique, energetic, nice try, good effort, and so on and so forth. We should be more accurate with the praise we give so that students do not get the wrong impression — that their work is truly excellent or perfect, when it isn’t.

If students always receive the praise that they are doing “excellent” or “perfect”, does this ever reflect in their marks? Do we give them excellent or perfect marks to match the praise we lavish on a daily basis? How do we explain to students, when we release their report cards or return their papers with less-than-perfect marks, that their work is actually less than perfect? How do we explain to parents, after they see the “excellent,” “perfect” and “great job” comments on schoolwork, that their children’s final marks aren’t anywhere near the excellent, perfect and great job comments received on their children’s homework, projects, and other schoolwork?

Such is the incongruity between unqualified praise and reality. If we tell students they are excellent, they will think they are better than everyone else. That certainly isn’t a bad thing, thinking one is better than everyone else, but it tends to create social disparity and a tendency to think one really is better than anyone else. Which may not be the case, developing a superiority complex as opposed to confidence. If we tell them that their work is excellent, then they will not have any motivation to improve on the work, because it already is excellent, and better than any other work done in class.

If we tell students they are “perfect” or what they do is “perfect,” they might develop the belief that there is nothing more for them to improve, that they know everything, and that everything they do is right.

If we tell students they are always doing a “great job” they might just as likely not bother to try doing a better job, simply because they’re already doing a great job.

Some teachers might rationalize that they shouldn’t give negative comments. Indeed, calling students bad, lazy, stupid, idiotic, poor, slow, and other such negative terms is not only derogatory; it is labeling them with negative words that tend to stick and that reinforce negative behaviour. But calling some students excellent, perfect, or great is also labeling, which tends to stick as well, and helps feed egos that, in all likelihood, do not need that kind of pampering.

What’s wrong with simply saying “correct” or “right” if the answer is correct or right? And if a student tries but doesn’t quite get the answer, saying “perfect” or “good job” then seeking another answer from someone else contradicts the praise, because there should be no other answer, since the first answer was already perfect.

How many ways can we provide praise without going overboard? I have compiled a list of several words that can be used alone or in phrases that teachers can use to express praise. You can also, most certainly, come up with your own set of words, or mix and match what is in the list to suit different occasions. Note that some words will work in either list.

I will add to this list as I remember words of praise that suit various classroom situations, and I will also greatly appreciate your suggestions of words that can be added to this list.

A Praise Vocabulary for Teachers, Tutors, Parents and Leaders

Words to praise work

  1. accurate
  2. analytical
  3. attractive
  4. brief
  5. clear
  6. colourful
  7. comprehensive
  8. concise
  9. correct
  10. creative
  11. descriptive
  12. entertaining
  13. evocative
  14. exact
  15. good examples
  16. good reasoning
  17. good word choice
  18. grammatical
  19. illustrative
  20. inspiring
  21. interesting
  22. logical
  23. makes sense
  24. neat
  25. organized
  26. original
  27. pithy
  28. precise
  29. prompt
  30. resourceful
  31. sensible
  32. timely
  33. useful
  34. well-researched
  35. well-written
  36. wide vocabulary
Words to praise action or behaviour
  1. active
  2. affirmative
  3. audible
  4. attentive
  5. careful
  6. clear
  7. controlled
  8. cooperative
  9. coordinated
  10. creative
  11. effective
  12. encouraging
  13. energetic
  14. fair
  15. good initiative
  16. good projection
  17. good sharing
  18. graceful
  19. helpful
  20. inspirational
  21. inspiring
  22. motivated
  23. observant
  24. participative
  25. practical
  26. precise
  27. prompt
  28. quick
  29. reasonable
  30. respectful
  31. responsible
  32. responsive
  33. restrained
  34. rhythmic
  35. shows leadership
  36. supportive
  37. team work
  38. timely
  39. vocal
  40. well-behaved
  41. well-executed