Anti-verbing

Prejudice against zero-verbing of nouns is all over the place. Usually, the complainant thinks the word is a recent innovation and objects to it as unnecessary; usually, the word has a significant history, and even if it doesn’t, it has virtues, like brevity and specificity. The case I’ve discussed most recently (relaying discussion by Jan Freeman in the Boston Globe) is the verb foreground. John McIntyre said nice things about this posting in his Baltimore Sun blog; I forwarded McIntyre’s column to several friends, and Kathryn Burlingham reported that the social time at the last meeting of a discussion group was largely taken up with “grousing about the awful state of language today”, with one member going so far as “to point out ‘bad’ usage by others of us during the discussion time… My offense was to say that someone had asked me if they could tent in my yard.”

It turns out that this use of tent has been around since at least 1856; OED2 (1989) has cites from 1856 through 1952, from both American and British sources. And “Tenting on the Old Camp Ground” was a very popular song of the (American) Civil War.

Kathryn’s use of tent was as ‘pitch a tent’, but the verbed noun is shorter. Camp might have worked, though to me it suggests something more elaborate than just pitching a tent. But tent doesn’t have to be the best possible choice, only one possible choice.

4 Responses to “Anti-verbing”

  1. jlundell Says:

    Kathryn might not want to “grouse” in the presence of her group, either; if that usage predates the verbing of “tent”, it’s not by much.

  2. arnoldzwicky Says:

    To jlundell: grouse ‘grumble’ seems to be more recent than tent ‘pitch a tent’; the OED has it from 1887 (in Kipling). (The OED and AHD4 provide no firm etymology, but they suggest it might have a French connection, ultimately related to Old French sources of the obsolete verb grutch and its reshaping grudge, in the obsolete sense ‘murmur, complain, repine’.

  3. The Ridger Says:

    >>ne member going so far as “to point out ‘bad’ usage by others of us during the discussion time… My offense was to say that someone had asked me if they could tent in my yard.”

    Wow. Being condemned because other people use “bad grammar” to you? That’s some hardcore peevology.

  4. mae Says:

    In an article about the Pope meeting Prince Charles — the verb “to big up” —

    “The biggest thing on Prince Charles’s agenda is the preparation for his coronation,” said Christopher Wilson, author of “The Windsor Knot: Charles, Camilla and the Legacy of Diana.”

    Charles would like the pope to attend personally, unlikely as that may be, given the religious divide between London and Rome, Wilson said.

    “He will expect a high-profile Roman Catholic presence in Westminster Abbey,” where he will be crowned, Wilson argued. “The combined heads of state come from everywhere. Every democratically elected head of state will be invited. It bigs up your coronation if you can get the highest Roman Catholic to come.”

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