Thursday, January 10, 2008


Mad hot verbing

I could pick any of a mess of words that we’ve twisted ’round in recent times, yes I could, and I could rant on the twisting until time ends. You’d all leave, though, if I did that, and you’d never come back.

And I want you to come back. So today I’m just going to pick three examples of twisted usage, and I’ll rant only briefly. Three examples of “verbing” — using nouns as verbs — and all of them representative of social computing.


We “text him” now, instead of “send him a text message”, the way we would “mail him” or “telephone him” in earlier times (or “interface with him”, oy!). This was an inevitable one, and entirely expected, yet it somehow grates on me anyway, probably just because I’m an old dog. On the other hand, I do still tend to say, “Send me email,” rather than, “Email me,” so maybe I remain an even older dog than I realize.


Truth be told, this one is more of a resurrection, a renaissance, than a neologism. “Friend” used to be a verb, but it’s been replaced by “befriend” in recent centuries. The Oxford English Dictionary labels all senses of it as obsolete, archaic, or poetic.

So maybe that’s it; maybe we can say that our current use of “friend” as a verb is “poetic”. Not much poetry in this sort of thing, though (from an online forum; the URL isn’t really relevant):

So I friended him on facebook a few days after last weeks class b/e it was going to be another two week interval between our classes (thanksgiving) and I wanted to keep our relationship growing. he friended me back and I commented his wall, but he never wrote back to me.
A Google search for "friended me" (with the quotes) turns up almost 40,000 hits.


Whether you spell this with “o” or with “ou”, it’s an up-and-coming verb, for better or worse. And this, too, was a matter of time: to “favorite” a web page means to add it to your “favorites list”. You’ll see it at the bottom of every entry on Boing Boing, such as this one:

Boing Boing entry, with 'Favorite this!'

I’m guessing that we’re going to see this one used more and more, for other things than web pages or blog/discussion entries. Now that we have shared “favorite lists”, there’s a lot of social value in “favoriting” everything from music and movies to restaurants and bars. And then, of course, we have to deal with “favorite spam”, where folks artificially bump their popularity by arranging to be “favorited” by more people.

The Internet can be a strange place.

Calvin and Hobbes cartoon: verbing weirds language


The Ridger, FCD said...

But "to friend someone" apparently doesn't mean "to befriend" - it only means to do the Facebook thing.

But you don't really want defenses, do you? (Though I bet you say "phone me" not "place a call on the telephone to me" ;-) don't you?)

Barry Leiba said...

Right, well, "to befriend on a social networking site," maybe. Although I suppose it's possible to "do the Facebook thing" to people you aim to completely ignore, hardly "befriending" them, really.

Maybe we'll also redefine the noun, hm?

And yes, I say "phone me" (or, more often, "call me" or "ring me"). But, then, the telephone, and the terminology, was around when I was born, so I never knew a world without it.

And kids born now will never know a world where you can't pull something out of your pocket and "friend" someone around the world. How crazy is that?!

Maggie said...


I go through periods where I watch HGTV, and I can't get over some of the things they say. Mostly it's the addition of "out" at the end of every sentence, but some of the verbed nouns are unbelieveable, like "nailgun" and "staplegun." "I'll just nailgun this out, and then we'll be done!"

I suppose you can't say "hammer" if you're using a nailgun, but can't you say "nail"? And we used to nail things in, but now we nailgun them out, which is an example of a point you made before I think about prepositions added willy-nilly and uselessly to verbs.

D said...

How about the other "verbing" that was included in that quote, "...and I commented his wall..."?