BlackBerrys and BlackBerrying

In the 22 June NYT, the story “At Meetings, It’s Mind Your BlackBerry or Mind Your Manners” (by Alex Williams) looks at smartphone use in meetings in the corporate and political worlds. Two points of note: the plural of the noun BlackBerry and the verbing of the word — together in this passage:

“You’ll have half the participants BlackBerrying each other as a submeeting, with a running commentary on the primary meeting,” Mr. Reines [Hillary Clinton adviser Philippe Reines] said. “BlackBerrys have become like cartoon thought bubbles.”

The article has BlackBerrys as the plural throughout. This is the plural spelling that is “faithful” to the base, by preserving the spelling BlackBerry. The alternative is to subject the base to the “change Y to I and add ES” rule that’s usual for pluralizing nouns spelled with a final Y following a consonant letter; that’s the “well-formed” version.

I’ve posted to Language Log many times on conflicts between Faith and WF. In fact, variation in the spelling of the plural for nouns with final Y — (rubber) ducky, Germany, Zwicky — was a topic in one of the earliest of these postings.

And there is variation here. Though the Times seems to have gone for Faith, other writers opt for WF, as on this site:

Wirefly’s 48 hour sale includes most BlackBerries for FREE (link)

Now, the verbing of BlackBerry. There are several senses of the verb out there, but the most frequent use seems to be as a “dative verb”, with its object understood as denoting the recipient of a communication (as in the quote above). Many have noted that as nouns denoting instruments or means of communication come into the language (in the course of technological innovation), they become immediately available as dative verbs; the point is made very clearly in Beth Levin’s 1993 book English Verb Classes and Alternations.

So we now have verbs bluetooth, skype (sometimes spelled with initial caps, sometimes not), text, IMS, etc. — and BlackBerry.

The question is then how to spell the PST/PSP forms of this verb. Again, there’s a conflict between Faith and WF. Both resolutions are attested: WF (with Y changed to I) in things like:

Thinking of Ben, I decided that he was the man to ask. He always had an answer to this sort of thing, so I BlackBerried him. (link)

but Faith (preserving the Y) in, for example:

Her frenetic yet motionless characters reflect the irony of BlackBerryed life: It only looks as if you’re busy. (link)

It occurred to me that if I said something live in person, it would not be as interesting to him as if I’d BlackBerryed him. It occurred to me that if I wanted to talk to him I’d have to BlackBerry him and say, “Please talk to me.” (quote from Peggy Noonan, blogged on here)

One Response to “BlackBerrys and BlackBerrying”

  1. John Lawler Says:

    I note that Faith also preserves both capital Bs in BlackBerry™®.

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