GM Words


For some reason today I began to think about the whole issue of GM words, that is Grammatically Modified words. Words that used to be one sort of word, usually a noun that have been altered to become a verb.

One of the first I encountered one day over a decade ago whilst strolling around PCWorld. I was looking at the accessories area and came across ‘a mousing surface’. I just went nuts. I was fine with mouse mat, since that was something my computer mouse (and I’m fine with calling it a mouse since it looks sort of like one) could scurry about on, but ‘mousing surface’! Well, when I wondered did mouse become a verb? Whose idea was it to modify is grammatical framework?

In my horror I began to conjugate the verb ‘to mouse’:

I mouse; I am mousing; I moused; I was mousing; I shall mouse; I have moused; I had moused; I shall have moused; I might mouse; I might have moused . . . . you get the idea.

Your feline companion may be a mouser. But I doubt you would say to a friend that last night your cat mouses or  went out and moused, any more than that he went on a mousing rampage.

It might be that I am a lexicographical Luddite, I grammatical throw-back, but I do have a hard time with GM words, and I mourn the attempts to drive adverbs to extinction. There are times when writing poetry that I have tinkered with a word or an idea because I needed a nuance that was not available in English. Sometimes English is a bit limiting. There is one word for love. I love grilled artichokes and I love my partner. Clearly the same word, but let’s face it not the same quality of affection is being expressed. So, there are times when I needs must and I am emboldened.

Never, however, do I desire or anticipate that anyone else would use the word. It would not be appropriate in any context other than the one for which I crafted it. GM words, on the other hand become part of our everyday vocabulary. We do it sometimes with adjectives and turn them into nouns, the modifier becomes the modified.

Then there are also words whose meaning, though remaining the same part of speech, change in such a way that it is no longer rooted as they once were. Not all such words make me feel like I’ve heard nails run over a blackboard. See, I still remember chalkboards, dust, smeared words illegible from the back row of the class. However, two such words for me are interdict/interdiction and anathema/anathematize. Look up the original meanings and see how they relate to how one uses them now. I was trained as a Mediaevalist, who also studied Latin and Greek, so those two words particularly make me cringe.

Now hold on, I am well aware that new things, experiences and realities require new words. But they require new words, not recycled old ones. Language evolves. It is not stagnant, but dynamic. I have no problem with expanding the dictionary, it gives lexicographers work and writers more options. That is more akin to me of exploring the rainforest and finding a new species that needs a name. But for me there is a vast difference between that and taking a perfectly useful word and adapting to increase its yield in usage units instead of taking the time discover a new and wondrous word that will save the language from starvation.

GM words – for me they are a step too far, and I will boycott them in my writing in favour of those words that have maintained their integrity in form and meaning, or news ones that speak with vitality and vigour about the world in which I live and about which I write.

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