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Jun 13, 2011
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with Anu Garg

If you are one of more than 600 million people on Facebook, it's likely that you regularly friend (and sometimes unfriend) others. This extending of language -- verbing of nouns -- brings growing pains. Some rail against it.

Why verb a noun when a perfectly serviceable verb 'to befriend' is already a part of the language? But language grows with need, and 'to friend' someone online is not necessarily the same as 'to befriend'. Each new verb or noun adds a new shade to the mosaic of the language.

And it happens all the time. We have the verb 'serve' and the noun 'service', but we extend 'service' to use it as a verb again because 'to service' is not necessarily the same as 'to serve'.

This week we'll serve you five verbs. Put them into service in your conversation and writing, at work, home, and beyond. Friend them into your vocabulary, and don't worry about those who complain against the verbing of nouns (all of this week's words have been verbed from nouns). It has been going on for quite a while now.

The Oxford English Dictionary has the first citation for the word friend as a verb from the year 1225. In fact, 'to friend' has an older pedigree than 'to befriend' (1559). A similar pattern emerges for the undoing part, unfriend (1659) vs. unbefriend (1884).

There was no Facebook, no Web, no computers, not even electricity back in the 13th century. But there was language, and a need to stretch it to fill a need. And long after Facebook is gone, we'll continue using language in ways that fit. Here's to verbing of nouns (and nouning of verbs)!



verb tr.:
1. To make pale by preventing exposure to sunlight.
2. To make weak by stunting the growth of.
verb intr.:
3. To become pale, weak, or stunted.

From French étioler (to make pale), from Latin stipula (straw). Earliest documented use: 1791.

"America itself was a stunted universe where men etiolate and shrink."
Herb Greer; Down With the Yanks! (Book Review); The World & I (Washington, DC); Feb 2004.

"Convinced republican that I am, and foe of the prince who talks to plants and wants to be crowned 'head of all faiths' as well as the etiolated Church of England, I find myself pierced by a pang of sympathy. Not much of a life, is it, growing old and stale with no real job except waiting for the news of Mummy's death?"
Christopher Hitchens; Beware the In-Laws; Slate (New York); Apr 18, 2011.

"If the history of the American sentence were a John Ford movie, its second act would conclude with the young Ernest Hemingway walking into a saloon, finding an etiolated Henry James slumped at the bar in a haze of indecision, and shooting him dead."
Adam Haslett; The Art of Good Writing; Financial Times (London, UK); Jan 21, 2011.

See more usage examples of etiolate in Vocabulary.com's dictionary.

I have never met a man so ignorant that I couldn't learn something from him. -Galileo Galilei, physicist and astronomer (1564-1642)

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