From Alright to Zap: An A-Z of Horrible Words – Rebecca Gowers


“Do not force nouns or other parts of speech to act as verbs,” says The Economist Style Guide; while in Lost for Words, Humphrys writes similarly that “verbs can refresh a sentence any time they are needed – but not if they earned their crust as nouns in an earlier life.” This goes beyond mere lexical Nimbyism: “wordclass conversion” is absolutely vital to English. Take cloud. In the ninth century it was a noun meaning a pile of rocks or a hill (cloud is related to clod and clot). Around 1300, clouds became (as they still are) heaps in the sky. Then in the 16th century, cloud was converted into a verb, meaning to “darken” or “obscure”. Catastrophe? No: good news. Gripers rate the expression epic fail to be an example of what it names, decrying this use of fail as a noun on the grounds that fail is, and should only be, a verb. Yet in the expression without fail, they accept the noun fail exactly as the phrase describes.

Something light, but long, for your Monday. We all have pet peeves, and, as linguistic and literary types, our pet peeves probably take the form of words or phrases. Some people dislike certain words for inane reasons, while others may actually have a point. Rebecca Gowers has compiled a list of some critics’ pet peeve words, their history, and the arguments for or against their use.

From Alright to Zap: An A-Z of Horrible Words – Rebecca Gowers

Image by Stephen Collins (via The Guardian)



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