The Gift of Verbs

Posted in Figuratively Speaking at 9:26 am by Marion


Maybe you’re like me and still have Christmas wrapping paper and packing boxes strewn in your living room, or maybe you’ve managed to get everything put away for the year. If so, good for you.

I haven’t put away my holiday language grievances either, so today, Figuratively Speaking hauls them out one last time before we move on.

I’ll start with the main offender this year: Gift.

Everyone loves to get them, and that’s the kind of gifts we should receive: NOUNS.

Some people, however, have developed a fondness for giving gifts of VERBS … as in, He gifted me a cheap rain poncho, which I regifted to my sister.

Of all the offenses in the above sentence, I think you can find them pretty easily. Not to mention the clear transgression of actually giving someone a cheap plastic poncho.

The gifting of “gift” brings to mind a troubling trend which I’ve railed about before, in one form of screed or another. That is forcing nouns to work double time as verbs … jobs they are not suited for.

Other examples of misuse, not limited to this type of “verbification” include

Prioritize. You may set a priority for the New Year, but please do not use this as a verb. Set goals and determine their relative importance. In other words, do something authentic in 2009.

Grow. Your hair grows (intransitive). This spring, we hope your beans grow (intransitive). If you are a farmer, you may grow corn (transitive). If you are a banker, you may see your accounts grow, though it’s not likely for this calendar year. You do not, ever, grow your accounts. Not even during a recession.

Impact. A noun. A noun indicating the action of one large mass colliding with another, often with sparks flying. A missile has an impact. Budget cuts do not. And you certainly don’t ask whether the boss’s permanent vacation will impact the bottom line. Try using the perfectly good verb affect.

So as we look ahead to this wonderful New Year, with so many fresh, hopeful months ahead, I wish everyone out there in Fiction Dailyland a happy 2009 full of correct language usage.


  1. Gene-o said,

    January 9, 2009 at 9:44 am

    Thank you for the important reminder. You have incented me to work harder at using verbs correctly.

  2. Gene-o said,

    January 14, 2009 at 8:33 am

    Just ran into another groan-worthy example in a scientific journal:

    “We hypothesized that KSR1 scaffolds iNOS.” Does anyone even know what that means? Is it a synonym for “surrounds,” like scaffolding that surrounds a building under construction?

  3. Marion said,

    January 14, 2009 at 8:52 am

    Oh my … unfortunately, scientists can misuse language in unimaginable ways … they view the world from a different perspective and often pull from language to serve their ends without explaining themselves in ordinary words … possibly afraid of saying something simple since they may not have evidence to prove it in a global sense.

    In your example it would be more clear to say, KSR1 acts as a scaffold for iNOS. Or even better … frames … supports … shapes … but then again they’re the brains, we’re just scribes.