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What’s In A Word?


Greetings, all! It’s been a regular whirlwind here at Maven Central. Phone calls, appointments, and all manner of other fun and exciting things have been going on. Such a schedule can be hard on a gal if she’s not prepared. Luckily for your Style Maven, there are dandy reversible pieces for the wardrobe that can double as work wear and play clothes.

Language often follows, er, suit when it comes to double duty. Words that spend many years as nouns gradually take on verb status. Words like husband, or Google, or the recently fashionable mainstream leap to mind; I’m sure that you can think of plenty of examples yourself.

This kind of shift is nothing new. Ages before beloved comic strip character Calvin described the fun of “verbing” words, speakers were bending language to fit their needs. The CMOS states that the word husband went from a noun to a verb somewhere between the years 1220 and 1420. Where there is language, there is bound to be change. Dialect and jargon are linguistic hotbeds of noun-to-verb transitions.

Use these newly minted verbs sparingly, though. If you’re quoting someone in your work, well then, you’d naturally go with their own words. According to the Manual, formal prose requires a light touch. “Such recently transformed words should be used cautiously if at all.”

Right! I’m off to run a load of laundry. Don’t forget to keep your nouns and verbs sorted, and remember: a well-turned phrase is always in style.


The Style Maven can often be found with one hand clutching a cup of coffee while the other flips pages in The Chicago Manual of Style. Known to her favorite four-year-old as "Mama", she spends an inordinate amount of time playing with toys. You can find some of her other work on her Procraftinator page.


  1. I think fiction writers are guilty of coining a few of these in order to avoid using adverbs and cliches ;-)

  2. Sometimes when I'm writing I think of a word to suit what I want to say, then wonder if it really is a word. If the occasion demands it, I'll use it.

    Morgan Mandel

  3. Isn't language fun? It's evolution, however, can create occasional raised eyebrows and double takes. Interestingly, it doesn't stop with the verbing of nouns. Slang ushers in a whole new set of coined words every few years.

    Fiction authors may contribute their fair share of creative words, as Elle notes, but they aren't alone. Listening to teenagers talk never fails to astound and bewilder me. I know they're speaking English — at least I think they are.

    Great post — I love it! :-)

  4. Ha! I see nothing to feel guilty about if a fiction writer makes up the perfect word to suit his or her purposes. We need not burden ourselves with whether Mr. Webster must add to his list of lookuppable (score!) words. It's creativity! Imagination! It's fanciful communication! Let the games begin!

  5. Just don't spend too much time texting everyone about your rocking new words. I hate the word "texting". I texted him an invite. It just makes my skin crawl. Ack!

  6. Apropos of nothing—except that perhaps I've never seen "deodicids" used before in a sentence—did you all see the winner of the annual Bulwer-Lytton contest for the worst sentence to open an imaginary novel? Get a hanky:

    As he told her that he loved her she gazed into his eyes, wondering, as she noted the infestation of eyelash mites, the tiny deodicids burrowing into his follicles to eat the greasy sebum therein, each female laying up to 25 eggs in a single follicle, causing inflammation, whether the eyes are truly the windows of the soul; and, if so, his soul needed regrouting.
    (by Cathy Bryant)

  7. Kathryn, do you suppose it would help if that overgrown sentence were divided into two or three shorter ones? Uh…maybe not.

  8. OMG, that's just gross! Yikes. LOL.


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