Death by verbing

From Facebook friends, this distressing recent Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, featuring a malevolently uberpeeving personification of the English language:

Verbings of multi-word expressions are pretty common: especially of Adj + N composites (in my files: double whammy, open source, long grass, instant hold, social network, free ride, …) and N + N compounds (death panel, phone call, glowstick, fireside chat, …); plus some proper names (Charlie Sheen, Norman Mailer).

The SMBC examples tap into an open-ended source of nonce verbings: verbing some quoted expression QE (No, I’m not, Aaah) to convey ‘to utter QE’ (either as an intransitive or as a transitive ‘to utter QE to s.o.’). The QEs could in principle be of any length, but as they get longer they get harder and harder to produce and process. Still, a few verbed short QEs are used often enough to verge on becoming conventionalized. The protestation Oh, Mother is one of these. Three examples of transitive verbings of this QE from Google Books:

“Oh, Mother!” / “Now don’t ‘Oh-Mother’ me!” (Grace Livingston Hill, Patricia)

“Oh, Mother…” / “Don’t ‘Oh Mother’ me. Stop arguing.” (Dawn Kawahara, Jackals’ Wedding: A Memoir of a Childhood in British India)

“Oh, Mother–” It was a small wail from Lynn. / “Don’t ‘oh, Mother’ me, my girl,” Ruth said sternly. (Peggy Gaddis, Enchanted Spring)

The example with Aaah is a special case: not just a quoted expression, but a quoted vocal noise, as in the productive pattern mentioned in my 7/13/18 posting “Swiss steak”,

of verbing onomatopoetic expressions denoting noises — giving tut-tut, shush, eek, etc. both as representations of noises and as verbs denoting the making of such a noise

(Postings on verbing on this blog are inventoried in a Page here.)


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