Monday, December 28, 2009

Plain English: Verbing Nouns

copyright 1987 Bill Watterson

“Thank you” is no longer enough. Some Americans are switching to the phrase “preciate it.” On TV I hear “preciate it” from newscasters, sportscasters, and award show hosts at the conclusion of interviews. Instead of saying “thanks” or “thank you,” or “I appreciate it,” they say “preciate it.” The trend is notable because it changes a core cultural response (thank you) and lops a syllable off of a traditional verb (appreciate).

Americans like to play with both traditional etiquette and verbs. We like to see things happen, change, move. Thirty years ago the word impact was strictly a noun. Today, a sentence like “The sub-prime mortgage crisis has impacted the entire U.S. economy” sounds normal. Other nouns that have been “verbed” include task (She was tasked with writing the report) and transition (He transitioned from head of sales to Chief Financial Officer). Americans have added “ize” to nouns like priority to form prioritize and dollar to form dollarize (converting foreign currency into dollars). The rest of the world frowns on this custom. The British Broadcasting Company forbids the use of “hospitalize” on the air. Writers must say that someone was “sent to hospital.”

“Preciate it” may or may not catch on. When I was a little girl “much oblige” or “much obliged” was widely used by men of my parents’ generation. I don’t remember women using it at all. Women stuck to “thank you.” “Much obliged” is still widely used in Great Britain and its former colonies, but not as a substitute for “thank you.” “Much obliged” can be traced as far back as 1548. It means “to be bound to a person by ties of gratitude, to be indebted to a person” (Oxford English Dictionary). The novels of Charles Dickens are full of characters who are “much obliged” to other characters.

Another word Americans are playing with is “streets.” A typical usage would be “The video game streets in October.” “Streets” is a shortening of the slang expression “hits the streets,” used to mean “becomes available to the public.” Back when the music industry created albums, the verb “drop” was used to mean “publish,” the date when a performer’s album would be available in stores. Example: “The new Elvis album will drop in time for Christmas.” The use of “drop” comes from the old vinyl records played on a phonograph when the needle arm would “drop” in the record groove. Today the verb drop is also used to indicate when catalogs, magazine issues, and other printed material will be for sale to the public. Calendars for the coming year usually drop in the fall.

My favorite noun-to-verb word is “morph,” the verb coined from “metamorphosis,” meaning to change from one form or shape to another. “Morph” has been used since 1947 by scientists to describe physical alterations in a species. The word was quickly adopted by science fiction writers to describe super powers of extra-terrestrial beings that “morphed” into other forms.

As America becomes more and more diverse, both customs and language will continue to morph. Slang is a cultural bridge that redefines the linguistic status quo. In order to meld cultures together, some changes in core customs may also take place. “Preciate it” for now suits our national need for something new and different. I don’t think “thank you” will die out, and I don’t plan to use “preciate it” myself, but I do understand how and why it came into usage. As the melting pot bubbles with more immigrants, we can expect both customs and slang to evolve. “Thank you” and “you’re welcome” may ultimately be replaced with expressions stranger than “preciate it.”


Mary Jane McKinney is the creator and owner of LLC, publisher of grammar, style, and proofreading exercises that use sentences from literature. She is a former high school English teacher and dedicated grammarian whose column Plain English appears in several Texas newspapers. LLC, P.O. Box 299, Christoval, TX 76935,, 325-896-2479,

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Another annoying noun cum verb: plate. As in ... Let's plate the food.