In my last post I wrote about how words like “Google” and “Facebook” used as verbs had made it to Lake Superior State University’s annual “banished words” list. It’s an interesting linguistic shift and with the ubiquity of the internet we see and use these words almost every day. “I friended her on Facebook”, “I spend too much time Facebooking”, “Let me just Google that”… and right now, in fact, I’m blogging.
The use of nouns as verbs has been notable in recent years, and is especially so in the fact that, well, it is no longer considered particularly notable. People just do it, even if they are not particularly conscious of the fact that they’re doing a process grammarians refer to as denominalisation. In fact, being able to convert nouns to verbs easily is something that defines English as the language it is – this cannot be done easily in many other languages, where verbs take different forms or have a variety of different stems or endings depending on their purpose in a sentence. These changes, or inflections, are not really employed in English, besides things like adding an s to denote a plural noun, or adding -ing to a verb stem to form the present participle.
For example, in French, regular verbs have 3 different types, those with infinitives that end in -er, -re or -ir. If a French speaker wanted to convert a noun to a verb, they’d have to alter the word – in English, we can just use the same word in a different context, and most people will pick up on it.
Without any official kind of regulation, the English language is free to go where it likes, often dependent on popular usage. It’s interesting to watch new words and phrases come and go, but some words are permanently added to our collective vocabularies – whether they’re in the dictionary or not.