Is turning a verb such as "invite" into a noun acceptable when we already have the word "invitation"? Is it abominable? It depends on the word.
Functional Shifts Happen When Words Change Their Part of Speech
Anyway, because the first recorded use of “invite” is as a verb, it’s possible that the word long ago experienced what’s known as a “functional shift.” A functional shift—also known as a conversion—occurs when a word moves from one part of speech to another. It does this without changing its spelling, adding a suffix or prefix, or anything else.
A functional shift can happen in several directions. For example, nouns can become verbs.
- “summer” becomes “to summer”
- “plate” becomes “to plate”
- “Google” becomes “to google”
Adjectives can become verbs:
- “smooth” becomes “to smooth”
- “dry" becomes “to dry”
- “crisp” becomes “to crisp”
Verbs can become nouns:
- “to take away” becomes “a take away”
- “to reveal” becomes “a reveal”
- “to visit” becomes “a visit”
Even prepositions can become nouns!
- “up” and “down" become “ups and downs”
- “in” and “out” become “ins and outs”
Are Functional Shifts OK or Awful?
Are these conversions acceptable? Are they abominable? It depends on the word.
Some conversions seem to represent the worst type of business jargon: “Let’s solution this problem,” for example, in which the noun “solution” has been randomly turned into a verb. Another example would be, “When is this deliverable due?” in which the adjective “deliverable” is used as a noun. This type of switcheroo is common in business writing. But it’s not necessarily good. In fact, it often signifies that the writer is relying on catch phrases rather than making an effort to write with precision.
Other conversions are trendy, and we don’t know if they’ll stick. An example would be when a friend says she’ll “SnapChat” you or that she’s “Ubering” to work. These examples show how very quickly a noun—even a proper noun—can transform into a widely used verb. Such is the flexibility of the English language—and the power of our brains, which allow us to instantly process and understand old words used in new ways.
Finally, some functional shifts have become so established that we would never even know they had happened. The noun “duck,” for example—meaning a bird—was derived from the verb “to duck,” which originally meant to go under water. The noun “wheel” came from a verb meaning “to go round and round.” And the noun “house” is believed to have come from an ancient Indo-European verb meaning “to hide.” “Duck” and “house” entered our language back when Old English was spoken, from about the 5th century to 11th century AD. “Wheel” is believed to have entered the language even earlier.
We Can’t Stop Functional Shifts
You can see from these examples that, like it or not, functional change in our language is ancient, ongoing, and unstoppable. It may annoy you today if a friend asks whether you “salad or sandwich” for lunch. But in 50 years, this “verbification” may sound perfectly normal.
So if it bugs you when someone sends you an “invite” to a party, and you don’t feel like “calendaring” it, just send them a “decline” and start “Facebooking” around for new friends. You’re sure to find someone who shares your love of our eccentric, ever-changing language.
Bonus Web-Only Fact
Shakespeare made frequent use of functional shifts in his writing, delighting his audiences by twisting common words into new forms. Just one example: He uses the adjective “tardy” as a verb, meaning “to delay,” as in, “the good mind of Camillo tardied / My swift command.”
Gotti, Maurizio, et al., eds. English Historical Linguistics 2006. Volume II: Lexical and Semantic Change. John Benjamins Publishing Company, 2008.
Hird, Jon. Do you salad or sandwich? The verbing of English. March 5, 2013. Oxford University Press English Language Teaching Global Blog, accessed April 19, 2018.
Moeka, Halaman. Fundamentals in Linguistics: An Introduction. Kisno, 2012
Norman, Alyssa. Functional Shifting: a presentation. August 21, 2016. Prezi.com, accessed April 19, 2018.
Oxford English Dictionary, online edition. Oxford University Press. Invite (subscription required, accessed April 19, 2018).
Stroud, Kevin W. The History of English Podcast, Transcripts, Episodes 6–10. Episode 6: Indo-European Words.
Trask, Robert Lawrence. The Dictionary of Historical and Comparative Linguistics. Fitzroy Dearborn, 2000.
Image courtesy of Shutterstock.