Tuesday, November 20, 2007

LangAlert: Nerb Edition

My apologies for offering another LangAlert so soon, but this one is fresh off the airwaves. As I was flossing my teeth just two hours ago, the following sneaked out of my shower radio and clobbered my left ear:

"... And this has allowed the idea to kind of spiderweb throughout the city."

This is another in the growing tradition of "nerbing": using nouns as verbs to communicate something in a seemingly original way. Other examples include "ponding" (as in, "Beware of ponding rain after this storm system passes through!") and "plate" (as in, "The food is of mediocre quality, but it is plated beautifully!")

"Spiderweb" as a verb was new to me, but I have to admit something on this one: If I look at it as an evocative way to communicate something quickly (something I appreciate as a hack screenwriter), it actually worked for me. I didn't have the usual cringe, throw-up-in-my-mouth-a-little moment. I got a picture, and it made sense. Sure, the person could have said "spread," but "spiderweb" is actually, in a strange way, more precise.

Which leaves me conflicted, because I hate nerbs (as well as their cousins, nadjectives and vouns), but I also enjoy making up words if I think they're prevocative (precise and evocative).

Spiderweb. Hmmm... I'll have to noodle this one for awhile. In the meantime, feel free to word an opinion of your own.

4 comments:

Vegas Gopher said...

Wait a minute -- isn't "flossing my teeth" technically a nerb? One could use the construct, "I was using dental floss to clean my teeth" and thus avoid the nerb. Of course, one would be thought a supercilious twit if one should use that construct, but I digress.

Here's another nerb that drove me nuts whenever I heard it. About a decade ago I used to listen to KSTP's morning show with Barbara Carlson (just for Reusse's hourly sports updates, I swear), and she did live spots for some hot tub company. In the spots, Babs frequently referred to "jetted spas," as in "spas with jets" (are there any other kind?).

There -- the thought of Barbara Carlson in a hot tub should put you off your appetite at least through halftime of the Jets-Cowboys game on Thursday.

The Wordman said...

these are what us linguists call verbalized nouns -- happens all the time -- happened in ancient Greece and Rome -- the priests burning goats on proto-Hindu altars along the Ganges were doing this, as were nomad tribes terrorizing the Russian steppes, millennia ago.

for those who want language to be an orderly animal, this kind of behavior drives them nuts -- in the worst cases, they have to be checked into soundproofed rooms next to the elementary school teachers who've gone insane trying to kill off IM-speak in their young charges. it is about as hopeless as saving the polar bears and keeping the mountain glaciers from evaporating -- possibly more hopeless.

my point is, we can grimace at the horrid ways some linguistic innovations sound or look, but this process is part of the natural (if glacial and cringe-inducing) evolution of language.

just keep your teeth clean and you won't embarrass y'self when you open your mouth t' speak.

tl

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