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Beemer

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September 19th, 2007

Does Verbing Weird Language? [Sep. 19th, 2007|08:52 pm]
Beemer
So, as you have probably noticed, in colloquial English, people will often use nouns as verbs. This practice is frequently decried and sometimes sounds strange. As Bill Watterson's Calvin put it, "Verbing weirds language."

On the drive into work the other day, I realized that, actually, I don't think it does weird language. Not in English, anyway.

You can use just about any noun or adjective as a verb in English and be understood. "I'm gonna X it," is generally taken as meaning to make something X-like or into X, or, depending on context, to do whatever is conventionally done with X.

Now, that doesn't always make a lot of sense out of context, but it's not too hard to come up with a context for any particular X where it would make sense, and where someone would understand exactly what you meant, even if it were a bit nonstandard.

Some examples: There's the almost-standard "Beer me" or "Coke me", meaning "get me a beer/coke" (so I can drink it, presumably). Which could apply to most consumables. Substances are verbed to indicate covering or the like: if we're talking about remodeling the kitchen and I ask if you think we ought to "linoleum the floor", it's pretty obvious what I mean, right? Verbing an implement denotes usage: "DVD that data for me, wouldja?" is a request to burn the data to disc. Modes of transit become travel: "I'm going to BART over to Oakland."

Sometimes you need a kind of weird context: the simplest I could come up with for "palace" was that if I were playing a SimCity kind of game, I might say "I'm gonna palace this set of hills" to indicate that I planned to build palaces there. But still, in that context, it makes perfect sense.

So now I'm wondering: what nouns and adjectives don't work as verbs? The most problematic ones I've come up with so far are animals. Probably among people who know a lot about warthogs the statement "I'm gonna warthog him into the ground" would be understood relatively clearly, but to me it only sounds generically aggressive. OTOH, we do have plenty of well-established animal verbs like "wolf down", "cow", "rat", "pig out", "chicken out", and so on.

What else works or doesn't?
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