The Angry Grammarian

Verbed nouns, and the people who hate them.

By Jeffrey Barg
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 1 | Posted Feb. 4, 2009

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As usual, The New York Times is full of cowards. They had a great opportunity last week to drop a stake in the sand and settle scores, but instead they skirted the issue. Pansies.

Until the iron hammer of Facebook cracked down, you could get rid of 10 friends in exchange for a Whopper from Burger King. The Facebook mafia shuttered the genius application because it violated their policy of never telling people when you clicked that "Remove from friends" link, but not before 233,906 people were unceremoniously sacrificed for some rat meat on a bun.

The New York Times documented the ensuing angst for friend-removers and friend-removed last week in an article titled, "Friends, Until I Delete You." Not "unfriend" or "defriend," NYT? Come on. Take a stand. Enough with this "delete" crap.

It's time for a codified verb. "Friend" has been a verb for years now; what's the opposite? Facebook reps say there's no one official answer--yet.

As prefixes, both "un-" and "de-" mean the same thing--"do the opposite of"--but only "un-" is specifically reserved for verbed nouns. Therefore you unfriend people who are worth less than a Whopper to you; you don't defriend them.

The difference might seem trivial, but the implications aren't. The Internet lets any asshole with a Wordpress become a published author. Each of them wants to be the next Shakespeare and create new words, but most aren't that creative, so we end up with lots more verbed nouns, nouned verbs and adjectived prepositions. Which ones get "un-" and which get "de-"? It's a mess.

But it's catching. For the last three years verbed nouns have been No. 1 or 2 on Merriam-Webster's Word of the Year lists: "vet" (2008), "facebook" (2007) and "google" (2006).

Purists will say these verbed nouns aren't really dictionary-sanctioned words, that "Google" is a trademarked noun and that's it. They might even complain about the death of language in their Facebook statuses. But these are just the kind of stiffnecks who get unfriended for burgers. They're annoying, but no one will be left to hear their cries.

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1. Matthew LeMay said... on Feb 5, 2009 at 10:48AM

“"De-" can be used for verbed nouns as well: defrocked. And "defriended" would make a nice counter-verb to "befriended."”

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