Midweek Semantic Snobbery

I’m a conservative when it comes to language.  I recognize that language is always changing, but I’d rather respect conventions than capitulate to what I see as misuses of language, failures to communicate properly.

Even when I text, I use actual words, complete sentences, and I do not abbreviate.

I say, “thank you,” and not, “thx.”  I text, “no problem, that’s fine,” and not, “k.”  I write, “I’ll see you later,” and not, “ttyl.”

Upon the commencement of my academic career, I was stunned that administrators—supposedly educated people—insisted on using “resource” as a verb.

“We will resource our faculty for teaching excellence,” one would say.  Another administrator told our department that he wanted to resource us.

I looked around the room, expecting howls of protest.

At the time, our institution was being rocked by controversy and I thought that people were taking themselves far too seriously.  I wrote one of the offending administrators a playful e-mail confronting his semantic shoddiness.  I inquired whether his willingness to use “resource” as a verb was a sign of worldview compromise and potential doctrinal drift.

The humor escaped him entirely.

Now, I’m prepared to imagine that there may be something wrong with administrators.  To faculty, of course, they are “The Dark Side.”  Perhaps they inhabit some alternative linguistic world, one filled with “actionable” items, where nouns and verbs trade places willy-nilly.

Surely scholars, on the other hand, know better—especially those in the humanities.

My jaw dropped the other day, however, when I opened N. T. Wright’s new book on the Gospels.  The very first paragraph of the book—the first paragraph!—ends with this sentence:

Yes, they’re about the beginnings of what later became known as Christianity, but what are they saying about that strange new movement, and how do they resource it for its life and work?

Simply staggering.

15 thoughts on “Midweek Semantic Snobbery

  1. Craig Benno

    I believe an American president once said that it takes a dumb person to only know one way to spell a word. I have no difficulty with a noun becoming a verb.

    But I do find that quoted paragraph, rather clumsy.

  2. Craig Beard

    Linda beat me to “reference.” As a librarian, I’ve heard more times than I want to remember someone telling me about “referencing” a source in a paper.

    1. TimJ

      I don’t see any evidence that reference isn’t a verb. I also can’t think of any other way to say “the source referenced in that paper.”

  3. greekUnorthodox

    Thanks! Now I don’t have to read the rest of the book. You’ve clearly undermined his whole premise…you’ve depremised him!

    BTW, I think words changing meaning does make some things more difficult, but it also allows for creative linguisticery! So BOO on you!

  4. Lance Collins

    Tim, It’s called anthimeria. Shakespeare did it all the time: shifting a word into a new part of speech. “A mile before his tent fall sown, and knee the way into his mercy.” Coriolanus. Think of smoke. Smoke rises. He smokes. He asked for a smoke.

    1. timgombis

      For the Bard, among others, it’s a beautiful thing to play with language and make realities come alive. It’s quite another thing for ham-fisted administrators to violate linguistic constraints!

  5. joegrom5

    I just read a sentence in a popular Sunday School curriculum I am evaluating for Hutch; the sentence used ‘resource’ as a verb. The grade I gave said curriculum just decreased. I thought you might appreciate hearing about that!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s