Stop Messing Around With the Language

Stop Messing Around With the Language

Businesspeople need to quit messing around with the English language. They're really screwing it up. They need to stick with selling things and making money, and leave the language to the experts.

I was recently listening to A Way With Words, a grammar and language show on National Public Radio (think "Car Talk" for word nerds). Someone called in and said he had seen the word "effort" used as a verb several times. As in "I am efforting a new update for my computer." Translation: "I am working on/getting/finding a new update for my computer."

I efforted really hard not to drive my car into a ditch.

Since when did "effort" become a verb? It's a noun. A noun is a person, place, or thing. Not something that businesspeople can mangle so they sound cool. They don't. They sound like they were kicked in the head by a horse.

Excuse me, hoofed in the head.

You put "a lot of effort" into carrying something heavy. Running five miles "takes effort." It takes "no effort" to lift a pencil. You don't "effort a box upstairs," "effort a five mile run," or "easily effort a pencil to a vertical position." It can be an adverb — you can run "effortlessly" — but that's it.

The problem with business jargon is that it turns verbs into nouns and nouns into verbs. Very occasionally, it works. It sounds good. It rolls off the tongue and you wonder how we ever got along without it. Martha, the show's co-host, even gave several examples of verbed nouns we use.

We think nothing about "accessing" our records on a computer. I've heard "access" as a verb for as long as I can remember, and there's nothing wrong with it.

"Texting" on a cell phone isn't a bad thing. Some people may not like it, preferring to "send a text" instead, but it easily lends itself to becoming a verb. It's a word that means what it says.

I wasn't thrilled when "friending" became a Facebook verb, but then, I'm not a big fan of Facebook. (I prefer Twitter where I "tweet" other people, but that's a different matter.) I've come to accept "friending," and use it when I'm talking about Facebook. Otherwise, I still make friends. (Out of paper dolls and we have tea parties, but that's a different matter.)

"What about 'gifting?'" Martha asked.

"Hate it!" I shouted at my radio.

I don't "gift" anything to anyone. I give. I give them a gift. I give them a hand. I give them a head start. The original word — to give — is so short, we don't need a different short word to mean the same thing. We need to get rid of "gifting," and I will do anything I can to incent people to quit.

At least I would if "incent" wasn't more stupid than "gifting." "Incent" is the needless shortening of "incentivize," which isn't a word either. It means "to motivate." We motivate people; people are motivated. We do not incent people, and they are not incented or incentivized.

It has me incensed.

I understand English is a fluid and malleable language. It's changing all the time, thanks to the new technologies that need new words to explain our world.

That's why I don't have a problem with accessing a computer, so I can friend someone, and text them later. I don't even have a problem with the language of texting, although I try to set a good example for my oldest daughter whenever she texts me.

Daughter: Dad, Elizabeth n I r going 2 the mall. L8r.

Me: Dear eldest daughter. I recall stating you could not depart the premises until your quarters were sufficiently cleaned. Have you completed the tasks I set forth this morning?

Daughter: U bet. C U 2nite.

Me: Oldest child of mine, have you discussed this situation with your mother. Is she aware of your intentions about how you propose to spend the remainder of the day? And pray tell, what method of conveyance will you and your compatriot use to travel to the mall?

Daughter: Wut R U talking abt?

Me: Speak English!

Daughter: Join the 21st century!

So, there's a bit of a generation gap there, but I can read what she's saying. On the other hand, I still hate the business jargon that threatens my beloved language. I hate incenting, gifting, and now — with a white hot passion reserved only for misused apostrophes — I hate efforting.

Excuse me, I'm efforting white hot hatred for people who are jargoning my language.

My book, Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), is available on, as well as at Barnes & Noble and Borders bookstores. I wrote it with my good friend, Kyle Lacy.

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