Nouning and verbing: an ask too far?

It’s been a while since I wrote about my (and your) favourite or least favourite words. But at Glasgow’s State of the City Economy Conference last week (9 Nov), some of the buzzwords and -phrases used by the speakers set my teeth on edge. And then I read a Macmillan Dictionary blog post on nouning and verbing, so I thought it was time to revive the topic.

I reckon I’m a language conservative. It took me ages to start using “task” as a verb (as in, a committee tasked with drafting a new energy policy). And I still don’t use “impact” as a verb. Inconsistent and irrational, I know.

On Friday, the phrase that I most disliked was “going forward” (as in “Going forward, we’ll be adopting green energy policies”). Irrational again, but it really bugs me.

Then there was “the big ask”. That I don’t mind. But then one of the speakers said that if Glasgow’s business people are looking for specific skill sets in school-leavers or graduates, they should “present their ask” to the education community. They shouldn’t just sit around complaining that young people don’t have the qualities they need: they should “channel their ask”. That, for me, was an ask too far.

Any jargon gripes — or delights? Share them in the comments!

By Marian Dougan

16 responses

  1. I totally agree with you, but it’s a real dilemma: it’s not so much the trouble of forcing ourselves to use words differently, after all, this could be seen as learning a new language, as the perception of us by our (often much younger) clients who find all this quite natural and may decide that if we don’t use their wonderful new terminology, we don’t “get it” anymore. The first time I came across this particular use of “ask”, I asked my client what exactly they meant by it in order to translate it properly into French, as I suspected that it wasn’t simply about asking: they didn’t even know how to explain it, and they made *me* feel odd for even asking.

    1. Thanks, Nadine and Anne. I hadn’t thought of it from the point of view of people translating out of English – that adds a whole new layer to the problem. It’s bad enough for native English-speakers trying to keep up and embrace change (when it’s good).

      1. Ah… I keep forgetting you don’t always write with your translator’s hat on! Although I can’t for the life of me understand how “going forward” came about, I do feel that nouning, verbing and similar phenomena make the language suit the purpose of the time. They add a different dimension to the language that was previously used, or a nuance if you like. A similar phenomenon is happening in French with a glut of words in “-itude” that are very easily made up but really do create a new concept, like banchitude, etc. I think all in all, nouning, verbing and the like are expressive and useful although a nightmare to translate. Much more so than americanisation and things like “I heart…” “I’m excited for tomorrow” etc.

        1. I think I’ve always got my translator’s hat on, to some extent. But when I wrote this post my “grumpy old woman” hat was sitting on top of it. Yes, I agree with you – the language does need to change, indeed one of the things I love about English is its flexibility. Our language likes and dislikes are very subjective, I think. For example, I suspect that the reason I dislike “going forward” is that I’ve mainly seen it used by smug local authority officials…
          BTW – what does “banchitude” mean?

          1. I only ever hear “going forward” in a business context and dislike it just the same. Sorry, it should say “bRanchitude”. We also have coolitude. It’s the fact of being branché, cool etc. I guess it would be “trendiness” and “coolness” in English but the French words have that added dimension of being new. You won’t find them in any bilingual dictionary!

  2. Great post again Marian. I’m with you on “going forward” all the way. Social networking also seems to have spawned a multitude of nouned verbs and verbed nouns (DMing etc. And on a different scale, how do you translate “it’s Facebook official” in French or Italian?). Don’t these people realise some of us have to translate this language into another that is not as malleable as English? I’m (almost) joking of course but it does create headaches for translators when the impossibility to translate some of these means the target text cannot convey the “new jargon” element of the source text, and therefore isn’t as good as we’d like it to be. Another big ask! It may be going too far to try and convey that but it also shows the utmost importance for translators out of English to keep up with their target language in so many areas, from the most mundane upwards. I struggled with “going forward” the other day and tweeted for inspiration for a translation into French. Nobody could come up with anything other than “from now on”, which isn’t quite right, is it? But it keeps us on our toes…

      1. Standard corporatese, I’m afraid. Specifically designed to appear to be saying a lot and expressing deep thoughts, to hide the fact that they have nothing to say, and with the (also hidden) agenda to complicate life for us translators :) because the question remains: should we also sound dumb in the translation or should we go for the normal target term? :)x2

  3. I hadn’t read the comments made by Anne and Nadine when I made mine, and I totally concur with them, of course. My (translator’s) hat off to them. I think that we must arm ourselves with fortitude to endure the coolitude of business types, going forward, and take care to upskill the register of our translations to reflect the trending topics and meet the ask of their discourse… (sorry, my neurons just short-circuited and must stop to rewire…:==)))

      1. Yes, Marian, thank heavens, I managed to get my neurons back in place again… and ready to confront another week (of toil, I hope). Have a splendid weekend!

  4. Well, unlike in an inflected language, bar the occasional gerund, you can’t just slap a suffix on a noun or verb and remain on the kosher side of word formation. Or can you? To some extent this depends on the education of the writers or speakers — for example, the average 21st-century person will hardly know or think to use a gerund with the indefinite article or come up with just the right Latinate suffix (some -ate or even -ize) to attach to a noun or anything else too educated. That type of education has been phased out with the changes in the education system to make it egalitarian, fair and — most importantly — easy. ;)

    The other thing is group thinking (nomen omen: ‘grouphink’); the first person to use the same nouning or verbing is brilliant and creative, and the next hundred or two clever and resourceful, but the next five million are neither — at that point it just gets tiring, and the charm is long gone.

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