Verbing the net noun.

July 27, 2009 | By | 7 Replies More

The word “texting” sounds harsh and garbled when it comes out of a speaker’s mouth. A sentence where “text” is used as a verb, such as , “I texted him yesterday but he didn’t text me back,” instantly summons an image of a slack-jawed, gum-popping teenage girl- all ignorance and frivolity. The words just sound stupid.

Don’t blame me- some of us Gen-Yers fought off the term “texting” the same way we did bad fads like Crocs and Ugg boots. Even deep into the aughts, years after “texting”, we still said “sending a text message” instead.

“Texting” prevailed however, for the same reason that Crocs and Uggs became ubiquitous: aesthetics aside, it was damn comfy and easy. “Texting” might make for an ugly-sounding word, but it came out with more smoothness and speed than the correct “sending a text message”.

The English language has a shameless pragmatism to it, just like the sloppy (but comfortable) people traipsing around the mall in sweatpants and Crocs. English judges a word not for its beauty or historical use, but instead for its potential to fill a gap or ease communication.

English’s deep preference for the simple means that no speaker can afford to be a purist, especially with informal technology and net-speak. We must face it: any site that is widely accessed will become a verb. In fact, the true test of a website’s popularity and importance is whether or not it has been verbed.

We “google” or “wiki” a subject when we want to learn about it. We “mapquest” a new location (even if we use googlemaps to find it). We “facebook” a new friend (or “facebook stalk” a potential love interest or gossip subject). If we use Facebook to send a private message, we say that we “messaged” that person. Idiotic as these new verbs all sound, they are effective and we cannot fight them.

Site-name verbing proves inevitable even when users are provided with an alternate verb at the outset. Twitter has attempted, and largely failed, to label the act of posting its 140-character updates as “tweeting”. Early-adopting netizens may still cling to the “tweet” verb, but the average user clearly prefers “twittering”- a longer and less elegant word! Twitter teaches us a new inevitability: you cannot force intelligent design onto net-speak, for blunt natural selection will win out.

So give in! I now use “texting” and “twittering” with wild and wanton abandon. I hate overly-cutesy net portmanteaus like “webbisode” and “webbinar”, but I am learning to loosen this prejudice for similar reasons (I even used the word ‘netizen’ in this post). Embrace our ever-evolving language, even if it rings a little choppy and silly. Learn to love utter practicality- I’m trying. Maybe this winter I’ll even buy Uggs.


Category: American Culture, Communication, Cultural Evolution, Culture, ignorance, Internet, Language, Technology, Whimsy, Writing

About the Author ()

Erika is a PhD student in Social Psychology living in Chicago. Here on DI she most often writes about current events, psychology, skepticism, media and internet culture.

Comments (7)

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  1. Danny says:

    Hahah, this affirms a bit my suspicion that the reason many more people aren't using twitter is because of the name. Admittedly that was a huge hurdle for me to embrace it. What it is and does is quite novel and fun, but I do feel cheap when I tell people I'm on twitter or I "tweeted."

    Or as Stephen Colbert said, "I've twat before."

  2. I can't say I share your visceral dislike of these new words. Seems to me there's nothing inelegant or ugly about a system that can adapt to help people communicate new thoughts and ideas, to efficiently discuss novel aspects of their environment.

    But then, there are some things that bug the hell out of me, for no rational reason. Like the misuse of punctuation. Or splitting a single sentence into bits with periods. For no good reason.

    So I know how you feel.

  3. TJ says:

    Hwæt! We Gardena in geardagum,

    þeodcyninga, þrym gefrunon,

    hu ða æþelingas ellen fremedon.

    Oft Scyld Scefing sceaþena þreatum,

    monegum mægþum, meodosetla ofteah,

    egsode eorlas. Syððan ærest wearð

    feasceaft funden, he þæs frofre gebad,

    weox under wolcnum, weorðmyndum þah,

    oðþæt him æghwylc þara ymbsittendra

    ofer hronrade hyran scolde,

    gomban gyldan. þæt wæs god cyning.

    Wait, wait.. is that too far back? How about this:

    Whan that Aprille, with hise shoures soote,

    The droghte of March hath perced to the roote

    And bathed every veyne in swich licour,

    Of which vertu engendred is the flour;

    Whan Zephirus eek with his swete breeth

    Inspired hath in every holt and heeth

    The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne

    Hath in the Ram his halfe cours yronne,

    And smale foweles maken melodye,

    That slepen al the nyght with open eye-

    So priketh hem Nature in hir corages-

    Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages

    And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes

    To ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry londes;

    And specially, from every shires ende

    Of Engelond, to Caunturbury they wende,

    The hooly blisful martir for the seke

    That hem hath holpen, whan that they were seeke.

    The first, which is likely more comprehensible if you speak German than English (but not much) is the introduction to Beowulf, in Old English, from about the year 1000. The second, which is at least partly understandable but by no means clear, is the beginning of the prologue to the Canterbury Tales, in Middle English, from roughly 1400.

    For other examples, compare Latin (from 2000 years ago) to modern Spanish, French, Italian and other Romance languages.

    The point it that language changes and nothing we can do will stop it (though perhaps television and movies have slowed down the change in the standard language). Most of the stuff that William Safire writes about and gets in a twist over is going to become standard eventually. Do you ever want to boldly split an infinitive no one has split before? Has the use of "impact" as a verb impacted your writing? Did you ever feel like laying down and giving up when trying to use "lay" and "lie" correctly?

    "Texting" at least fills an honest need for a word to describe what one is doing. Did you know that our modern "bye", which we all know is short for "goodbye", is actually a contraction from the mid 1500s of "god be with ye"? (Hence the goofy spelling.) We probably needed that, too.. and for it to be much shorter.

    So, languages change, and there is nothing we can do about it, despite our seemingly very natural response to complain abut the degeneration of the language. But, unless you can read Beowulf in the original, the language you speak is just a "corruption" caused by years of French Norman rule in England starting in 1066.

  4. Dan Klarmann says:

    The trend from the Reagan years continues. I remember the uproar when the White House verbed "impact".

    As Bill Watterson spoke through Calvin, "Verbing Weirds language."

    Here is the wiki on verbing ("linguistic conversion")

  5. I thought "texting" was hard to say until people started sending erotic messages with their phones. "Sexting" is an even more awkward word. A real mouthful!

  6. Nowhere Man says:

    Either "impact" was a verb before the Reagan years, or "impacted molars" did not exist before 1980.

    I doubt that the latter statement is true.

  7. Dan Klarmann says:

    "Impacted" (adjective) means having made or received an impact (noun). No verbing involved.

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