November 30, 2012 by IPAlchemist
How is it nearly two weeks since my last post? I intended to have a period of respite following multiple postings at APAA, but was still vaguely intending an approximate one-a-week rate. But nearly two have slipped by. Never mind – I can remedy the situation immediately. So I shall.
Today I am going to have a rant. Sorry – polemical piece designed to provoke thought and discussion. No – I was right first time – rant. Everyone likes a rant. I think this will be my first blog rant. And the subject is one of my promised three – language.
A couple of weeks ago I saw a comment on a blog where a lawyer said that he had “lateraled” into his current position. That’s right – “lateral” as a verb. I don’t know how one should spell it – since it should not be written anyway, the “one l or two” question should never have arisen. So, for the sake of this piece, I shall use one l.
This is not the first time that I have seen an adjective used as a verb. It is, I regret to say, more often observed in US usage, although (as we shall see later in this post) the most egregious example that I have encountered was in the UK. The first time I observed the phenomenon was over a decade ago in an advertisement on the New York Subway that informed its readers that a certain printer “compatibles” with a range of popular computers.
In both these cases, a perfectly innocent adjective has been minding its own business and has then been dragged, kicking and screaming, into service as a verb. This cannot be. In the English language we have parts of speech, and they have to be respected. I fully concede that a language need not do this, and there is no intrinsic requirement in language to distinguish between an adjective and a verb. The Japanese language is quite happy, for example, to press a whole range of words into service, with only minor manipulation, as nouns, verbs and adjectives. And another type of adjective in Japanese displays verb-like qualities such as tense. But this is English we are talking about. It simply will not do to flagrantly disregard the basic categorisations of words. While I can just about accept the shift of category from adjective to noun, although sometimes with regret, the leap to a verb is a shift too far.
I said that this usage was not restricted to the US. A few years ago, I was talking to a friend about his company taking over a contract to provide certain public services. I asked what would happen to the employees of the existing provider. “Oh,” he said, “we just TUPE them over.” (For those of you who may not be familiar, “TUPE” stands for “Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations”, and refers to the rules protecting employment rights in such situations where one company takes over the provision of services from another.) “TUPE them over?” I shrieked, wincing. “You are using an acronym as a verb! Can’t you hear it scream? Can’t you hear its pain as you mutilate it in your Procrustean bed of a sentence?” (He couldn’t.) “Everyone says it,” he justified. As if that forgives flagrant disregard of all linguistic sensibilities. (It doesn’t.)
So here I stand, founder member of the Call the Rescue Adjectives in Pain. Post a comment if you share my pain and wince when you hear a word used as an incorrect part of speech.
And next time – watch out for news of the Society to Salvage the Subjunctive!