Friday, March 16, 2007

Language weirds.

My family has been trying and trying to drag me into instant messaging. They almost have me. But some things I will resist to the end, like making verbs out of "message" and "friend." I know I'm against the tide, and the descriptivist in me knows better. I know, for example, that once upon a time, "to edit" was considered a weird verb. It's what linguists call a back-formation from the noun "editor." (Why then did "monitor" not give us "to monit"? Why did not "editor," like "monitor," become a verb? Because English is not logical; because it is hostage to its users.)

But if I were to give in, I'd go whole hog. I'd ditch the label "back-formation." I'd favor the verve of "verbing."

It was the great philosophers Calvin & Hobbes who astutely noted that "verbing weirds language." But this is true, linguistics professor John Lawler adds, "only if you're expecting it to work in a simple way." The larger truth is that "Language Weirds."

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