Why Do We Verb Nouns?

Rob Kyff on

"Let's Christmas like crazy!"

"How do you burger?"

"People encored him again and again!"

Faithful reader Oren Spiegler of Upper Saint Clair, Pa., recently spotted these exuberant conversions of nouns to verbs.

Like most of us, Oren enjoys the sly retrofitting of nouns to create verbs for one-time use, as in "to Christmas" and "to burger."

Hey, that's the fun of English!

But, like Oren, many of us grow queasy when verbal alchemists transmute the base metal of a noun like "encore" into a golden verb. We wonder, will this trend mushroom? Will it snowball? Will it, well, encore?

After all, we've been goosed by many creative verbs before. People now "guest" a talk show, "guilt" a friend, and "task" a committee. Online, we "bookmark" websites, "google" questions and "friend" acquaintances.

Of course, many trendy verbings are simply unnecessary. Why "conference" when we can "confer," or "dialogue" when we can "talk," or "author" when we can "write"?

But let's not forget that many of the verbs we regularly use today were once nouns, e.g., "reward," "weather," "experience," "survey," "fire." Just 50 years ago, purists were condemning the use of "contact," "host" and "stomach" as verbs, but we have no trouble stomaching these verbs today.

But why do some nouns jet effortlessly into verbhood while others never get off the runway?

Linguist Chi Luu recently tackled this question in her fascinating article "Do You Even Language, Bro?"

The verbability of a noun, she writes, depends largely on three factors: how concrete it is, how familiar it is, and how many words can be saved by using it.

The hardwood furnishings of a conference room, for instance, turn into verbs when we chair a committee, table a motion and gavel a meeting to order. Similarly, nothing is more familiar to us than the parts of our bodies, so we elbow our way through crowds, hand over documents and head soccer balls.

And vowing "I'll primary the incumbent" or "I'll summit the mountain" is much more concise than declaring, "I'll run against the incumbent in the primary," or "I'll reach the mountain's summit."

But even abstract nouns can soar into verbs. When the astronaut played by Matt Damon is marooned on the Red Planet in the film "The Martian," for instance, he vows to "science" his way out of his predicament.

In creating verbs, as in surviving, necessity is the mother of invention.


Rob Kyff, a teacher and writer in West Hartford, Conn., invites your language sightings. Send your reports of misuse and abuse, as well as examples of good writing, via e-mail to or by regular mail to Rob Kyff, Creators Syndicate, 737 3rd Street, Hermosa Beach, CA 90254.

Copyright 2017 Creators Syndicate Inc.


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