Writing Style – To Verb or Not to Verb

Deane’s question: “In sports, news nouns, such as ‘summit’ and ‘medal,’ are often treated as if they were verbs. For example, someone will write: ‘I don’t expect them to medal in that tournament,’ or ‘he is expected to summit Mount Everest this afternoon.’ Is this correct in formal writing?”

BizWritingTip response: What you are concerned about even has a name. It is called “verbing.” Verbing is a way of creating new words out of old ones. Nowadays, we might head up a task force, hand over an assignment, or referee a game. We might also email or text a friend.

It has been estimated that up to a fifth of English verbs are derived from nouns — including verbs such as rain, snow, and hail.

New forms of words take some getting used to. But the truth is if those forms stick around for a while, we do get used to them.

However, when writing in the business world — regardless of whether you are preparing a formal or informal document — I would not recommend getting creative with your word choice. (I once received an email recommending we Calvinize at an upcoming conference. In other words, wear jeans.) Stick with words that would be familiar to your reader. In business writing, your role is to inform your reader – not distract them with your “brilliance.”

Have you been verbed lately?

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