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http://tech.slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=10/02/12/0235246

Verbing nouns has been with us forever, ...

One of the fun things I learned while taking some linguistics courses in college was the actual grammar of English. Several of the profs had fun assigning an analysis of English grammar late in their course, after the students had learned something about linguistic analysis. It turns out that our usual terms such as 'verb' and 'noun' are Latin word classes, and are pretty much irrelevant to English. English has valid word classes, but 'verb' and 'noun' aren't among them.

The sentence "Don't verb nouns" is a good illustration. Every native speaker of English instantly understand this, and knows that 'verb' is the verb. How do they know? It's because English syntax tells them that a word in that position is the 'verb', and a word in that other position is the noun. There's nothing in an English verb (except for 3rd person) that marks that word as a verb. Also, 'nouns' could be a 3rd-person singular verb form, but we know it's a plural noun, not because of its form, but because of its position in the sentence.

So 'verb' and 'noun', if they mean anything in English, don't describe word classes. They're the names of syntactical positions within a clause. Pretty much any "content" word (often called "substantives", as opposed to syntactic particles or relational words like prepositions) can be plugged into a verb or noun position, if their basic meaning makes sense there. This was done by Bill Waterson in "Don't verb nouns", as well as in the followup "Verbing weirds language", to good humorous effect. But these also pleased a lot of linguists, because they're both excellent examples of how the English language really works. The real proof that they're both correct English syntax is that we all understand them without any problem. And we understand (if only subconsciously) that they're funny because they violate the invalid grammar rules we've been taught in school.

Now if we could just get the school system to stop trying to impose Latin grammar on English, and teach actual English syntax. But I suppose that won't happen within our lifetime. And it might also eliminate much of the humor that we get out of the whole mess

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