Language Corner

When nouns are turned into verbs

September 3, 2019

A friend writes: “I’m starting to see more and more people using nouns as verbs. It started with someone saying, ‘I’m efforting this.’ I thought it was just her but a Google search turns it up and I’ve heard other people here use it. And just got an email from someone who wants to set a date for something. ‘We’re in the process of calendaring,’ she wrote.”

Yes! Another chance to play “Buzzword Bingo”!

For those just joining us, “Buzzword Bingo” is a board game played by bored people in meetings. Someone creates a card with “buzzwords” often heard in that office, and the first person to get five buzzwords in a row wins!

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We have two new entries here, both present participles of verbs that might or might not exist.

First is “efforting.” has one of the few online definitions, which consists entirely of this: “Verb. Present participle of effort.”

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(Grammar quick bite: “Present participles” are formed by adding “-ing” to verbs. A “participle” is simply a word formed from a verb. Gerunds also end in “-ing,” but they are verbs pretending to be nouns. “Efforting” and “calendaring” are acting as verbs.)

The Oxford English Dictionary has an entry for “effort” as a verb meaning “To strengthen, fortify,” from about 1661, but calls its usage “obsolete.” Most other dictionaries don’t acknowledge “effort” as a verb.

UrbanDictionary, which is often NSFW, has a decent definition: “The use of physical or mental energy to do something; exertion.” That definition was added in 2003, but “efforting” first shows up in Nexis in a 1980 New York Times article about an actors’ strike: “I don’t like efforting of any kind,” the comedian Anne Meara said. We hope she was being ironic, even though she was using “efforting” as a noun.

Not so more recent uses of “efforting.” The Veterans Affairs director was “efforting to reduce” the problem of veteran suicides (in a business journal, natch); a Florida police department is “efforting to lower crime rates”; a college softball team has been “out-hustling, out-gritting and out-efforting opponents.”

While it doesn’t take a lot of “effort” to find uses of “efforting,” they are thankfully rare, for now. Is there something wrong with the word “trying”?

Now, “calendaring.” Some dictionaries acknowledge this verb, at least. The American Heritage Dictionary lists several participles, “calendared, calendaring, calendars,” all defined as transitive verbs meaning “To enter in a calendar; schedule.” Merriam-Webster lists only “calendared” and “calendaring” as participles.

The OED traces the first usage of “calendar” as a verb to statutes during the reign of Henry VII: “The names of every such prisoner…to be kalendred by fore the justices for the delyveraunce of the same gaole.” In other words, put the prisoners on the court calendar.

Finding uses of “calendaring” as a verb is much easier than finding “efforting,” but most uses appear in public-relations contexts such as press releases, reinforcing that it’s business jargon. Even so, “calendaring” is creeping into the MSM: “Often, good old-fashioned calendaring can go a long way toward helping students prepare for assignments,” one educator was quoted as saying (education and academia are not known for shunning jargon); a rifle club plans “calendaring of upcoming shooting events for the public,” in the words of the newspaper, not the source; another wrote about residents’ “mania for calendaring their social life.”

Is there something wrong with “scheduling”?

The “calendar” of scheduling derives from a Latin word, kalendae, meaning the first day of the month. But “calendar” has another spelling, meaning, and history, one relevant to printed publications. Its derivation is the Greek word kylindros, or “cylinder.” “Calendered” paper, with an “e” before the “r,” is finished by pressing it through a series of rollers, to assure a smooth surface and uniform thickness. (Your spellcheck might not catch the error if you spell the date type “calender.”)

To assure smooth prose and uniform understanding for your audiences, you should “effort” to avoid “calendaring” anything but paper.

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Merrill Perlman managed copy desks across the newsroom at the New York Times, where she worked for twenty-five years. Follow her on Twitter at @meperl.