Astonishing verbings

Back on August 21, Mark Liberman reported on a remarkable verbing — of the noun euthanasia, in a sign painted on a van:


(with a striking use of whom in the continuation HANG THE PERSON WHOM HIRES THEM).

Catching up on Language Log recently, Phil Jensen was reminded of the wonderful Monty Python line (with reference to a penguin on top of a tv set, a penguin that’s about to explode):

Oh, intercourse the penguin!

“Euthanasia the illegal alien” and “Intercourse the penguin” are similar in form but of course arise from different motivations.

Someone verbs euthanasia if they don’t know, or have forgotten, the verb euthanize; the verbing is a way to fill what is for them a lexical gap. And you can google up a modest number of examples of this coping strategy, for instance:

The metaphor is if you don’t allow the sick, elderly or unproductive people access to health care and treatment you might as well euthanasia them… (link)

In some cases, if the government thinks aids patients are terminally ill, with no cure, they can euthanasia them. (link)

But even if you know the verb euthanize (which, by the way, is a late 20th-century innovation; the OED‘s draft additions series of 1993 has its first cite from 1975), you might not find it appropriate in contexts like the ones above and might prefer to innovate a fresh item.

The thing is that euthanize is most commonly used with animate but non-human objects — NOAD2 glosses it ‘put (a living being, esp. a dog or cat) to death humanely’ — and appears to be most commonly used in the passive, as in this OED example from 1976:

The cats were euthanised immediately after they were found to be infected.

The noun euthanasia, in contrast, seems to be associated most strongly with providing a “gentle and easy death” (as the OED puts it) to human beings. That might lead you to verb the noun to describe such situations, even if you have the verb euthanize available to you.

(You don’t have to like the verbing, or use it yourself. I’m just pointing out that someone could end up with the verbing on reasonable grounds. And of course I’m not approving the ugly sentiments in that sign.)

On to intercoursing penguins. This is an absurd nonce verbing designed to serve as taboo avoidance — to convey “Oh, fuck the penguin!” by ostentatious avoidance, using the medical noun intercourse.

But as so often, life imitates art. Every once in a while someone hits on the verbing intercourse as a briefer way of saying have (sexual) intercourse with while avoiding fuck and screw and the like, as in this clueless question:

How do you tell some random babe on the street you would like to intercourse them? (link)

And you can find straightforward examples of dismissive-exclamatory intercourse plus direct object serving as an avoidance of fuck/screw (or the hell with), as here:

The phone companies iin Canada just want to peddle you useless shazz for mega dollars. Intercourse them. I mean, if they are so upfront an honest, why don’t they show us typical monthly bills as demos on their websites? (link)

(just as in the Monty Python quote).

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