Chappell Ellison | Essays

The Would-be Words of 2010

An open book, with permission from Shutterstock

The New Yorker
recently published their list of Top Ten Would-be Words Submitted to Merriam-Webster in 2010. A few of the words are chuckle-worthy, such as ecotistical — feeling self-important due to conservationist ecological practices. I’m also quite fond of sidegrade — to replace (something) with something that is neither better nor worse — as a term that defines an era of smartphone updates and web app beta releases.

However, the word that stood out to me the most was porch. Instead of the noun that currently exists in our vocabulary, porch was submitted as a verb, meaning, to spend time on the porch. For example, now that I live in New York City, I would say, “I don’t get to porch as much as I’d like.”

Last year, I was fortunate enough to take a class taught be the lovely Akiko Busch. One morning, as my caffeinated class of fifteen students gathered around the seminar tables, I remember Akiko referencing an article from a newspaper, in which a farmer was quoted as saying, “We don’t neighbor like we used to.” Though expanding the definition of a word is exciting, the noun-verb transformation comes with a tinge of nostalgia as culture shifts further from the origin of the word. Porches and neighbors just aren’t what they used to be. This is to be expected — verbs became more important to us the moment cell phones infiltrated our lives. Now, the first question asked over the phone is generally, "What are you doing?" Status updates and Twitter weren't too far behind.

Every generation is defined by certain key moments, usually of a technological or political bent. My father’s generation is defined by the post-war era baby boom, while my brother is forever attached to the Gen-X label. As for me, they say we’re Millennials, though I hardly believe it. For now, I'll continue thinking of us as the last generation to remember Google before it became a verb.

Posted in: Arts + Culture

Comments [3]

the verbification of nouns is a recognized linguistic pattern that's quite common in american english. it pre-dates the entrance of cell phones into our lives. see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conversion_(linguistics)#Verbification

Thanks a. — I know that verbification is not a new phenomenon. I'm simply very interested in the point at which it occurs.
Chappell Ellison

Verbification of nouns is usually a by-product of laziness, because there is almost always an appropriate verb right there, waiting in the wings. But using a couple of brain-cells to access it is too hard, hence....verbification happens. The worst of all is "gifting" - ugghh. Giving work just fine.

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