THE VERBING OF NOUNS – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Prioritize

Once upon a time in a land far, far away, you got your priorities in order. You set priorities. You decided what was your top priority, then you could change your mind forever but at least you knew there had been a priority.

You did not prioritize because the word “priority” was a noun. A noun was a thing. An item. A name. An object.

Marilyn as writer

One day, back in the 1970s or thereabouts, we ran out of grammar and punctuation. No one taught grammar in American schools. They hadn’t taught it is so many years that I had only learned grammar as an afterthought.

So it continued until we had the National Whatever-They-Were-Called-Back-Then exams that were supposed to determine what we did and did not know. I got amazingly good grades on everything, probably proving that all the teachers who called me an under-achiever were right on target.

I was much more interested in painting in the art room and reading books than doing “workbook” assignments. I, in fact, did not do workbooks. Once I discovered you could “fail workbook” for not coloring in the attached pictures, I thought “This is really STUPID” and flatly refused to do it. Rather than battle me to the death, they sent me to the art room which got me out of the way. No one was actually worried about whether I was getting educated. I apparently was educated enough to think the curriculum was stupid.

Remember this one?

I also refused to bother with the official school “readers.” I had already read them. In the second grade, I’d locked myself in the wardrobe closet (it was the size of a small bedroom and had lights) and read all the readers up through sixth grade.

Mrs. O’Rourke was furious and called my parents. My mother felt if I had read all the schools readers in less than two hours — in the closet in second grade — that they weren’t giving me an adequate education. For all practical purposes, they didn’t have a clue what an adequate education might be. I spent a lot of time in the art room.

All of this was fine until the high school sophomore year standardized tests when it was discovered no one in the super high IQ group, in which I was reluctantly included (high IQ, low grades), got better than a 60% score on grammar. Not a single one of us.

Louis B. Schuker, our principal called an assembly of The Smart Kids Expected To Go To College. He said we had all gotten grades of 98% or higher on every test they threw at us — except grammar. So the following year would be devoted to grammar. For all of us, even if we were planning on nuclear physics in our near future.

Jamaica High School

Thus during my junior and senior years of high school, I learned grammar — possibly as part of the last New York public school students to formally learn it. One of the things I learned is that you can’t just turn a noun into something else because you are too lazy to use the word properly.

It was hopeless. I might have gotten two years of parsing sentences, but the rest of the world didn’t parse.

The result is that today, we communicate with little tiny pictures known as “Emojis” and think “prioritize” is a real word. I guess it is a real word now. Everything is a real word, including Emoji.

Our language has no class. That’s why kids don’t talk to each other. They don’t know how.

57 thoughts on “THE VERBING OF NOUNS – Marilyn Armstrong

  1. I agree that some grammatical changes are sometimes necessary, but I also agree with you that sometimes it goes too far. And in terms of teaching grammar I was very surprised when my kids were in school to notice that there were no real grammar lessons. They all write well, mostly I think because they read a lot. Like you, I’m noticing that nouns become verbs. It’s an international trend because the same happens in French. Plus they add American English with a je ne sais quoi, there. My French will soon be too proper:)


  2. I wonder if they teach diagramming of sentences these days. It probably went out with the memorization of “times tables” and learning the slide rule. I actually enjoyed diagramming sentences and it helped my writing.


    • They weren’t even teaching in when I was in school in the 1950s. I think parochial schools and private schools still teach it, but public schools haven’t taught grammar in more than 60 years.


  3. As much as I always liked to write things, I absolutely hated grammar. The rules seemed arcane and random, plus they didn’t match up with the way people in my town talked… which of course became how I talked. There should be guidelines, yes, but strict rules about dangling participles and double negatives? Nah.

    I was unaware that the “verbing of nouns” trend predated social media memes… as I just assumed “normal” sounding non-verbs like prioritize always existed. That’s probably just an evolution of language thing that’s here to stay. And as much as I try to avoid being influenced by “textspeak” and the warped English used on the internet, I find myself submitting to its influence more often than not…. LOL


    • The way people talk is the way they talk, but the ability to write properly has a need for grammar. What words are used are less important than knowing how to use them. I don’t think texting online abbreviations belongs in college papers. It certainly didn’t belong in anything I wrote in all the years I wrote for a living. Sure, words changed. Dramatically once technology took hold and remember, I was totally in the geek world until I finally retired. I used words that no one outside the industry understood and we actually created a lot of words because none of them existed before. Pity we didn’t coordinate our efforts because techno-speak is riddled with words that sound different but mean the same thing and it is painfully difficult to understand technical instructions even between very similar applications.

      Stupid words like “file” and “data” don’t mean the same thing between application. It’s even worse in photography or art applications where each company has invented its own language so you have to relearn everything each time you open a new application.

      One of the things I learned writing documentation is how to keep things simple so EVERYONE can understand it — regardless of level of education or original native language. That is why you need structure in a language. So EVERYONE can understand it, even if the word is unfamiliar, at least the context makes sense. My granddaughter writes me notes I can’t read. Literally can’t read. I have to write her another note and say “WHAT????”

      NOT only that, but this is a multi-lingual country. You cannot teach a language that has no structure. A person learning a new language needs to know where you put the adjectives, the objects, subjects, verbs. Sure some people speak differently, but others don’t. Slang changes depending on where you happen to live and it is useful to have a language that makes sense regardless of location. And by the way, dangling participles became “legal” a couple of dozen years ago. I try to avoid them because I don’t like how they sound, but sometimes they are the least awkward way to say it, so I use it.

      And this is why I write the way I do. Because many people who read me are not native English-speakers and I have even more simplified how I write and now include Celsius readings and kilometers as well as miles.

      The world is complicated. Writing should be simple, clean, and easy to understand. And spelling shouldn’t be random OR dammit, punctuation.


  4. I’m reading an incredible book, “Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries” by Kory Stamper. She was a lexicographer for Merriam Webster for many years and set me straight on the fact that the language is constantly changing and that dictionaries do not prescribe usage but merely record it. I highly recommend this book, also available from Audible. It’s made me a bit less militant about grumbles against the changing meanings of words and usages in grammar. still hard to take but like many changes in the modern world, impossible to fight against.


    • there is that. But I think what we see here is just plain lazy. There isn’t even the attempt to get it right. Or rite.
      One man, by the way, who should be roundly cursed and run out of town, is Stephen King. Single handedly he has changed a perfectly good word, “cemetery” into “cemetary” with one two word title. There are thousands of people who now believe that THAT is the way you spell cemetery. Soon enough, merriam webster will record it.

      And the man who used “donuts” in his restaurant name. No one ever ever spells it ‘doughnut” any longer.

      (Strikes head on table, repeatedly. )


    • I coped with prioritize long ago. But at this point, while language changes, there are supposed to be at least SOME rules. Like — define a full sentence. Know the basic parts of language. You know: verb, noun, adverb, adjective, pronoun, period, comma, quotation marks. Basic stuff. Other languages change, but they keep their grammar. What we have is not merely change. It’s more like language collapse.

      I’m not going to bother to correct people, but I find it infuriating that people paid big bucks on TV don’t know a noun from a verb or an adjective from an adverb or for that matter, a pronoun. I think it’s their JOB to know.

      And they really should teach grammar in school.

      I think people should know there’s a difference between “less” and “fewer” and realize that “lose” and “loose” are different words. Meanwhile — LOL is not a word. It’s an online abbreviation and doesn’t belong in your college English paper any more than drawing Emojis instead of writing a sentence would be appropriate. Maybe we’ll just go to sign language and abbreviations. Forget spelling and grammar. We’ll just grunt at each other and send Emojis by phone.


      • I feel as you do about many things… particularly apostrophes and ‘You and I” versus “Me and him.!” Shudder. On the other hand, just 700 years ago, this ws laudatory Enflish: “WHAN that Aprille with his shoures soote 1. The droghte 2 of Marche hath perced to the roote,. And bathed every veyne in swich 3 licour,” How many millions of changes did folks have to accustom themselves to between that and its modern equivalent? I agree we need grammar, syntax, proper punctuation, standard spelling, but we also have to accept that it is going to change. No matter how much we scream for the established, it will change and change. I, too, hate initialspeak, but I find myself having to learn it to understand what others are saying even if I don’t use it myself. The internet has sped this all up, of course. In the meantime, I’m still objecting to apostrophes in plurals and subjective forms used in a nominative sense and out of order at that!!!


        • I don’t mind changes, but we also need a language structure and some basic definitions too. Every language has made huge changes in this period. But most also kept grammar TOO. At least kids growing up learned how to construct a sentence. I’m less concerned with which words they used than then that they BE words and not abbreviations or pictures. I think when we start to return to pictograms, we are not moving forward.


      • English is such an amalgam of other languages, sometimes it’s a joy to wander through it, and sometimes it’s a nightmare. We take on new words like an old train takes on coal and water–our words come from Indan Nations, Creole, Geman, Yiddish, Olde English, Gaelic, on and on and on.

        It changes so quickly that even the language of Frost’s poems have become slightly archaic. Chaucer was the first Englishman to actually write in English, which was considered the ‘street language’ of the poor and uneducated. French for the court, Latin for the law, and English for speech. One good thing, modern poets have at last done away with words that ‘fit the scansion’ of a poem, ’tis, ’til, ‘o’er, ‘neath the waves…

        Now we need an interpreter to translate it for us.

        In a hundred years there will be thousands of new words, added to the bajillion we already have.

        Doughnut, doughnut. I don’t use spell check. The only word that truly drives me batshit is reading ‘rogue’ and spelling ‘rouge’. I tell them, that’s like spelling ‘tounge” to mean ‘tongue”. Huh? “Whut?”


        • Yes, we no longer have a real “root” language. We aren’t really Germanic, yet we have pieces of romance and tidbits of every other language that has come into the country. I don’t think it’s so important which words we use, but I think HOW we use them and knowing the right way to use them matters.


  5. Pingback: Another Mega Prompt (multi?) Post | sparksfromacombustiblemind

  6. I still have a copy of Elements of Style. You know they aren’t teaching kids how to write, their math is the pits and I doubt a lot of them can read.


    • The most boneheaded thing that educators have done, is eliminate cursive writing. Some kids teach themselves, or their parents help them. But I keep thinking, all these kids who cannot WRITE cursive will also be unable to read it. I used to volunteer, for 20 years, at the state historical society here. 95% of my work was reading old (and I mean OLD) letters, deciphering them, in many instances figuring what a man in the 17th century was trying to say (they used different letters then, did you know that), and read old wills, diaries, family letters. No one printed.
      Without cursive skills, these kids will be unable to work in a library, any place that deals with historical records, even letters from their grand parents…we are effectively cutting them off from a great many jobs because cursive is ‘too hard”…

      Liked by 2 people

      • I THINK they have rescinded the rescinding of cursive. I could be wrong and they may have rescinded it again. But there’s more to cursive than handwriting. It’s also hand TRAINING and helps kids learn to use their hands to do small, controlled tasks.

        And anyway, everyone should have a distinctive signature.


  7. I was never bothered by the word “prioritize.” It seems perfectly logical to me. But the first time I heard someone use the word “incentivize,” it was like they were scraping their nails down a chalkboard.


    • We need grammar or we aren’t a language. We’re pidgeon-speak. I “get” that it changes, but these days, anyone can say anything and no one even knows there are any rules to follow because (tada) NO ONE TAUGHT THEM ANYTHING.

      Our educational system is really failing badly.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. It seems that now if a word or expression is frequently used the powers that be declare it to be an official part of the language.
    Spell check does not work if you have used the wrong word rather than an incorrectly spelled one. I’m always arguing with it in WordPress. Recently I started to use Grammarly but I am using the free version and it wants me to write American English while I stubbornly stick to British English. Australians consider either correct but I was taught British English and I am not changing now.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I refuse to use spell check. If I can’t look up how to spell it, to hell with it. And sometimes, golly gee, I WANT to spell a word funny, dialectially speaking. With spellcheck you can’t do that.


      • About ten years ago I was taking an office administration course to help me look for work. I was the oldest person in the class at 50. Most were late teens and early twenties. When we came to the part of the course dealing with business correspondence I was one of maybe five out of a class of thirty who did not need extra help . They actually brought in another teacher just to help people with spelling and grammar. I might add that apart from a couple they were all native English speakers too. Very disturbing.


  9. what makes me shout out loud are the ‘new verbs’ that seem to have taken over the ads: for awhile, ‘to office’ was a biggy. They’ve stopped that one, maybe someone shouted at them for it. And you can “gift” someone now, although I must admit, that one isn’t totally terrible. Just annoying.
    The other is a collection of words that sound good but make the weather forecasters sound incredibly inane. “Major winter weather event”, “heavy wet downpour” (o please), and one weatherman who was so excited about his first major winter weather event he announced that we were about to have a winter weather event of major proportions which turned out to be a dusting of snow, maybe three inches in the corners.

    Folk’s who have no idea where to place tho’se bits’ of punctuation.
    And dont’ care.

    Stores who sell “fresh” “fish”. Not to me, they don’t.

    And people who use spell check but never check to see if it’s the right WORD. bear, bare, beer, bayer. Their, they’re, there.


    • Yesterday, announcers somewhere on television — a news show I think — were discussing “rich billionaires.” Rich billionaires.

      And don’t you love people who use punctuation randomly? Like “Haha …;!” Any combination of “special characters” is now “punctuation.”


  10. Ain’t education grand? As a retired English teacher, I lament the lack of grammar, written and vocal, that appears everywhere, hidden or blatant. You went to school in Jamaica, Long Island, New York? I went to Forest Hills High School in New York, way back in the 40s, when they cared about grammar.


  11. Yeah. And isn’t that state of things absolutely terrifying? I have a niece who graduated (four years of college) with a degree in “Communications” and who can’t spell. Who doesn’t know a semi-colon from a comma and other glaring errors that make me wonder who passed her. But things like good grammar and spelling are archaic. Ask anybody who tweets (ugh) or texts instead of actually opening their yap and TALKING. I’m a proud member of the “Grammar and Spelling Police” (we have t-shirts and everything), but the rules are changing so fast that even if one grasped the basics of grammar back in the dusty old years of our past; they won’t be correct in what they do today. It drives me around the proverbial bend.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. pri·or·i·tize
    designate or treat (something) as more important than other things.
    “prioritize your credit card debt”
    synonyms: emphasize, concentrate on, put first, focus on, fast-track, expedite, make a priority
    “we must prioritize pollution control”
    determine the order for dealing with (a series of items or tasks) according to their relative importance.
    “age affects the way people prioritize their goals”
    synonyms: rank, order, hierarchize, triage;


  13. Far worse than prioritize, my favorite example of bad grammar occurred on television, when a reporter commented that they were “efforting” to find out more information on some event that had just happened. It grated so badly that I actually even called the station to complain!


    • It doesn’t matter. We have NO grammar, no punctuation. No sentence structure. No one knows what the subject is, much less a clause. They do not know the difference between an adjective and an adverb and if you try to explain it, you realize they also don’t know the difference between a noun and a verb. I blame it all on sports announcers who eliminated adverbs decades ago. The rest? Facebook.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I think you’re right about Twitter — with only 140 characters, there wasn’t room for grammar! You undoubtedly know the book title “Eats Shoots and Leaves” — a perfect example of why grammar is important!


          • And the lack of tenses, especially the past tense (as in “I text him,” meaning “I texted him.”). There’s a tendency for some to use too many commas — our rule was “when in doubt leave it out.” Sumetimes there are so many it chops up the sentence to be unintelligible!


  14. and I work with someone who makes every noun an adjective. It’s not just a tornado out there; there are tornadic conditions. Or hurricanic conditions. Drives me up a wall.


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