Today’s verbing

From WIRED magazine’s Plaintext web column by Steven Levy today (with the notable verbing bold-faced):

This week the social media world took a pause from lookie-looing the operatic content-moderation train wreck that Elon Musk is conducting at Twitter, as the Oversight Board [of Meta] finally delivered its Cross Check report, delayed because of foot-dragging by Meta in providing information.

The verb lookie-loo (more commonly looky-loo), in this example roughly ‘stop to look at something out of curiosity’ (it can also mean roughly ‘view something for sale without intending to buy’), occurs here in its PRP (-ing) form lookie-looing, used in a nominal gerund phrase (which is the object of the preposition from). Finally, the verb lookie-loo here is transitive (with the NP the operatic content-moderation train wreck that Elon Musk is conducting at Twitter as its direct object); most occurrences of this verbing seem to be intransitive — examples to come below — though transitive uses are also attested.

On the source noun for this verbing, from NOAD:

noun looky-loo (also lookie-loo): North American informal [a] a person who comes or stops to look at something out of curiosity, especially when such attention is unwelcome: the trespassing looky-loos caused her to build a fence around the front yard. [b] a person who views something for sale with no genuine intention of making a purchase: a treat for all the North Shore’s looky-loos: the popular Spring Designer Kitchen Tour. [OED3’s early cites for this sense are with reference to real estate]

Both senses denote types of aimless looking. Sense a is a near-synonym of rubbernecker and curiosity-seeker and is akin to sightseer, while sense b is akin to window shopper (but more general, applying to any shopper who’s “just looking”). My impression was that sense a was not only the more frequent (as the NOAD editors judged it to be, so they put it first), but also clearly the older, but OED3 (March 2015) has the two senses appearing at about the same time, with sense b very slightly older (sense b in 1977, sense a in 1978, both in the Los Angeles Times).

Now on to the derived verbs, first in their PRP (-ing) form looky-looing (as in the WIRED quote).

— the rubbernecking (sense a) verb:

“There’s a lot of people out there looky-looing [at the site of a fire]. They’re really not paying attention to their surroundings” (link)

— and the window-shopping (sense b) verb:

Yesterday my daughter and I spent the day shopping, well not really shopping but looky-looing (link)

Then the window-shopping (sense b) verb in its PST form looky-looed:

There was a moment, a few years back, when we considered moving to Marin, the county where I grew up. I attended a few open houses there. And as we looky-looed, I noticed a familiar refrain from realtors when I mentioned that I lived in the city. (link)

They are smart, these do-gooders, and threw a “Meet Your Neighbors” bash attended by a young crowd who looky-looed throughout the facility (the lobby!) while some adopted animals (which then makes room for another shelter dog/cat to move in). (link)

And the window-shopping (sense b) verb its BSE form looky-too (in construction with infinitival to):

Outside lounge was great and comfortable. Inside was old Las Vegas. It you only want to looky-loo, go early, pay the 10€, get two free gifts (link)

i usually like full coverage halter top styles. thanks for the tip i am going to looky loo and get some goals for encouragement! (link)

Finally, a semantic point. There are other sorts of aimless looking, beyond rubbernecking at something remarkable and shopping without intention to buy. Some of my cites suggest that some speakers have generalized the use of the verb looky-loo to aimless looking of any sort (or even looking of any sort):

Tom Ham’s caters to as many brides as Bali Hai. So if you’re into looky-looing at wedding parties like I am, make a note. (link) [roughly, watching all the brides go by]

If you’re spending a lot of time monitoring what everyone else is doing, positive or negative, you’re not doing yourself any favors. To clarify: I am not suggesting you ignore market trends, new technology, or emerging developments. I’m saying this in the sense of cyberstalking and looky-looing at what others are doing. Whether it’s something that intimidates you or something that you want to heckle like Statler & Waldorf from the Muppets, it pulls your attention away from yourself and puts you in a negative frame of mind. (link) [roughly, looking intently]


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