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This blog is about the fascinating, fun, and challenging things about the English language. I hope to entertain you and to help you with problems or just questions you might have with spelling and usage. I go beyond just stating what is right and what is wrong, and provide some history or some tips to help you remember. Is something puzzling you? Feel free to email me at wordlady.barber@gmail.com.
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Monday, September 20, 2010

Verbs: it's ok to do this. Really!

Consider the following work of fine literature. What do all the verbs (not counting the auxiliary verbs like "be", "have", "do") have in common?

What a morning!

My usual routine: plug in the kettle for tea, microwave the porridge, spoon some sugar onto it, wolf down a buttered, toasted bagel.
Then I showered, soaping myself down, shampooing and conditioning my hair.
I towelled myself off, then brushed and flossed my teeth and combed my hair. Since my skirt needed hemming, I threaded my needle and stitched it up, then ironed it. I zipped up the skirt, buttoned my blouse and pinned on a brooch.
Before biking off to work, I gardened a bit, deadheading the flowers, weeding the beds, and watering the flowerboxes. Typing really fast, I emailed a few friends and phoned some others. After printing out some stuff, I headed off to work, locking the house carefully. As I was pedalling along, someone darted in front of me and I had to brake really hard. Then someone doored me and I somersaulted over the car, landing on the sidewalk. Fine the bastard!!

Did you figure it out? Every single one of those verbs started out life as a noun. And yet people persist in saying "I hate it when people use nouns as verbs". The idea that you shouldn't "use nouns as verbs" is possibly the most ridiculous statement about the English language ever made. It seems to have cropped up in usage commentaries in about the 1980s and then spread virally without anyone ever examining it critically. So if you adhere to this rule, let me assure you: You only THINK you object to verbs that are created from nouns. If you really did, you'd be at a loss for words. Literally.

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Canada's Word Lady, Katherine Barber is an expert on the English language and a frequent guest on radio and television. She was Editor-in-Chief of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary. Her witty and informative talks on the stories behind our words are very popular. Contact her at wordlady.barber@gmail.com to book her for speaking engagements; she can tailor her talks to almost any subject. She is also available as an expert witness for lawsuits.