December 16, 2004

I seem to be a literalist

Boy, what literalists we linguists can be. No, faith isn't really a verb, as Mark notes. But can we cut people a little slack here? Or does descriptivism stop at grammatical metalanguage's edge? In the first page of Google results on the string "is a verb," I find people saying "News is a verb," "A program error is a verb," "Friendship is a verb," "Relationship is a verb," and, several times, "God is a verb." Condemn those as cliches, but not as category errors -- it's the same device that allowed Dwight Bolinger to say, in one of my favorite linguistic epigrams, "Words are not things, but activities."

Posted by Geoff Nunberg at December 16, 2004 02:33 AM