Verb it!

I’ve been struggling for ideas for posts, so I turned to the online discussions I had with my classmates during my masters study in 2010-12, which we were able to save as text files.

One involved the use of technology-related nouns and verbs. The discussion thread was Google it! As the name of a website, Google is a noun (and upper case), but people soon began using it as a verb and writing it in lower case. Many people decry the verbing of nouns and/or using registered company or product names as generics (see generic trademark) but both are common procedures in English. I can remember people faxing (though fax was never a proper noun, and was an abbreviation of facsimile (another common procedure in English – I don’t think anyone ever facsimilied (btw when was the last time you sent a fax?))), and references to people telexing (which was originally an upper-case proper noun). Before that, people telephoned, then ’phoned then phoned. All of these are transitive verbs: Google it, fax the document to me, fax it to me, fax me the document, ?/*fax me it, phone me, ?telephone me. (See also telegram, telegraph (including its metaphoric use) and wire.) (I can also remember an advertisement (?for a graphic designer) informing us that we could ‘fax or modem’ our requirements to them.)

Because there are different search engines, and because I don’t like giving free publicity to corporate mega-giants (like you all don’t who I’m talking about and like not naming them will hurt them in some way!), I generally say/write search or search online. I don’t remember these directly, but in the class discussion I mentioned that I’d seen Facebook as verb and that someone on a general discussion forum had written that they had “actually imdbed it …”, referring to the Internet Movie Database. I don’t know how that is meant to be pronounced. 

Some varieties of English (especially British English) /æ/ (as in fax) is pronounced as or closer to /ʌ/ (as in fucks). In The Cambridge Encyclopaedia of the English Language, David Crystal reproduces a story from The Spectator of 12 September 1992. A judge said ‘I’m afraid we’ll have to adjourn this case, I have written my judgment out, but I left it in my cottage in Devon and can’t get it sent here until tomorrow.’ ‘Fax it up, my Lord,’ the helpful barrister suggested, to which his Lordship replied, ‘Yes, it does rather.’ (In varieties, fuck has become fook, but no-one pronounces fax as fooks.)

Technology moves on, faster than ever these days. Some English textbooks from the ’00s which I was using in the ’10s have fax machines, answering machines and modems (ah, the good old days of dial-up 56k internet, when you thought very carefully about your internet use), as well as cheque books. My wife recently had to pay a business invoice and the entity’s website wouldn’t accept our online payment. The other options were paying in person or sending a cheque to a post office box address. She asked ‘Can we do that?’. 

I’m probably at my peak technology use now. I use Facebook and Messenger but not Instagram, Twitter, WhatsApp and Tiktok, to name but four. One of my choirs has a WhatsApp group which I am not part of a) because no-one has directly told me about it and invited me to join, and b) I’m not going to download an app just to join one group. But when my job status was changed from casual to permanent at the beginning of this year, they told me that the team has a social WhatsApp group, which I haven’t joined yet. I recently sent messages to one nephew and niece about their university and high school study. A few days later I messaged (hmm …) my sister, asking her to ask them to check their Messenger accounts (which they did, then replied to me).


One thought on “Verb it!

  1. Pingback: Sciencing | Never Pure and Rarely Simple

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