May I have a word... about nouns posing as verbs?

Jonathan Bouquet
The Guardian
<span class="element-image__caption">Eddie ‘the Eagle’ Edwards was last in the ski jumping at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, Canada.</span> <span class="element-image__credit">Photograph: Rex Features</span>
Eddie ‘the Eagle’ Edwards was last in the ski jumping at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, Canada. Photograph: Rex Features

This country has long, and rightly, welcomed immigrants. And not just people. Our language has been enriched in diverse ways by incomers. We would be a poorer place without a leavening of French, Spanish and Italian interlopers. Where would the erudite book review be without “bildungsroman”? And look how useful the word “zeitgeist” has become. I am sure that there are also some useful American imports, although, offhand, they are eluding me at the moment. They all point to our language being ever fluid, ever changing and, for the most part, enhanced. Yet there are some constructions that still grate.

I hope that in the canon of linguistic crimes you will agree that using nouns as verbs is high on that list. Both “reference” and “impact” recur with nauseating regularity. Only yesterday, I heard a business reporter on TV use “headquarter” as a verb. Then there are the execrable coinages such as “surveill”, “euthanise” and “taxidermied”. What on earth is wrong with “monitor”, “put down” or “stuffed”?

But for the fullest flowering of such manglings, I suggest you look no further than the Winter Olympics, which begin in South Korea on 9 February. For here, during a festival of quite pointless sporting pursuits, you will be witness to an effusion of, “I’m really hoping to medal in the cross-country luge” or, “My aim is to podium in the eight-man ski-jump”. I don’t recall Eddie “the Eagle” Edwards spouting such nonsense. No, Britain’s sportsmen and women, it won’t do. Kindly refrain from the above and stick to, “I really hope to be in the top three”, and leave it at that. It’s not a lot to ask.

What to read next

By using Yahoo you agree that Yahoo and partners may use Cookies for personalisation and other purposes