Opinion & Blogs » Rosie Right

rosie right

Verb This

comment
But what to make of the verb pie? As long ago as June 2000 there was a discussion of this usage in the newsletter Copy Editor. The editor had found the verb in the Southern Illinoisian, the Chicago Daily Herald, and the Chicago Tribune. Pie in this sense meant hitting someone in the face with a pie.

Copy Editor tells us that Steven Pinker in his book "The Language Instinct" estimates that a fifth of all English verbs were originally nouns. For instance, you can head a committee or scalp the missionary. "Easy conversion of nouns to verbs has been part of English grammar for centuries; it is one of the processes that make English English."

One of the words Rosie has heard most complained about is impact as a verb. Here, again, experts disagree with the complaints. Webster's Dictionary of English Usage tells us:

"[I]mpact was a verb in English before it was a noun; it is first attested in 1601 and was brought in straight from the past participle of the Latin verb that also gave us impinge: The relatively recent figurative uses of the verb are parallel to, though no doubt influenced by the figurative sense of the noun; this is not a case of a verb derived from an earlier noun."

Webster's continues by noting that the word has progressed from literary usage to use in business and military jargon.

Those who don't agree can take heart from the last paragraph in the Webster discussion:

"You need not use this verb if you find it unappealing; a periphrastic substitute (often including the noun) will suggest itself for nearly any context in which the verb might be used, and sometimes another verb such as affect, influence, impinge or hit may serve. But it is too late now for complaint to prevent the establishment of this use."

So, if you object to a word — even conversate — please remember your manners: Don't pie the speaker.



Let Rosie hear from you by letter (Style Weekly, 1707 Summit Ave., Suite 201, Richmond Va. 23230) by e-mail (repps@styleweekly.com) or by telephone (804-358-0825)

Add a comment