This post is about some of the non-word tricks that I haven’t been able to use and about some that I have.

One of the tricks that I haven’t been able to use is to verb nouns. Verbing nouns means making verbs out of nouns. So when you workshop a piece of writing or dialogue with someone or snowboard or gift, you are verbing nouns. Linguists call this functional shift because you are shifting the function of one part of speech to another. You can actually verb lots of things: prepositions (to up the ante), interjections (I wowed them), even hesitations (he ums a lot), compound conjunctions and articles (they if, and and butted me to death).

And, by the way, you can noun sentences, fragments and phrases as well: Tell whatshisface I need to see him (my New Jersey persona emerging). Or whatchamacallit, whoziwhatsis, thingamajib, and shitforbrains. You can adverb prepositions (to sit up). You can adjective nouns (a stone wall), and I added the word adjectify just for that. And you can exclaim or interject just about anything. It’s all functional shift and it seems curious sometime because English doesn’t always use affixes much we change a word from one part of speech to another.

As far as making up new words, it would be a bit a cheat to take a noun meaning and list it as a non-word verb. I did that with birch (to walk by someone and pretend you don’t see him/her), an eponym (we’ll talk about these later) suggested by Becky Bartlett. In general, meanings change pretty often. So functional shift is a trick that language uses a lot but I haven’t been able to take advantage of because reasonable readers will object that the words aren’t new new. I added a new meaning to the obscure biological word thecal (relating to a sheath, especially a tendon sheath), extending its meaning to of or relating to a master’s thesis. The joke was impossible to pass up.

Some tricks that I have been able to use, that language doesn’t use much, are internal punctuation and special symbols, and violations of normal English sound patterns (what linguists call phonotactics).

And I’ve tried to invent some words that aren’t just nouns, verbs, and adjectives. This is again, something that languages rarely do. When was the last time you learned a new article, auxiliary verb or preposition? So I introduced wusta (meaning should have and would have if I had thought of it), alsomore (a transitional word used in a sentence after one has already used also.), and ofrom (a blend of off of and from as in I got it ofrom the internet.) and whych, (interrogative pronoun meaning both which and why).

Spelling tricks included o’nomastics, (the yearly process of putting an apostrophe in names beginning with the letter O), artisn’tal (having the quality of artisanal products but lacking the pretension and cost), in@ention (obsessive, unproductive toggling between writing projects and email or social media, whew!able (characterizing a close call, as in a whew!able drive).

And some of the violations of normal English pronunciation include snlob (someone who is snobbish about being a slob), sgaggle (a succession of noisy groups), and fnast (the sound of nasal passages being cleared inward, an ingressive snort). Twalkers (people who walk and text at the same time and nearly run into others) is probably right on the border of possible pronunciation because of the phonetic similarity of the wa and the aw. There’s more on sound structure to come.

About Ed Battistella

Edwin Battistella’s latest book Sorry About That: The Language of Public Apology was released by Oxford University Press in June of 2014.
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