Limber Up Because English Is Flexible

If you hate it when nouns are used as verbs, it's time to consider that the words that and up can be many different parts of speech.

Edwin L. Battistella, read by Mignon Fogarty,
Episode #545

And a few years ago, the media was abuzz with concerns about the word because being used as a preposition (as in "because reasons" or "because science") rather than sticking to its more traditional role as a subordinating conjunction (“because language changes”). People who thought the usage was an abomination when they first heard it were using it regularly within a few weeks, at first ironically and then routinely. And Oxford Dictionaries lists these uses of because, super, and fun, tagging them—for now—as informal.

So before we get too judgmental about nouns being used as verbs, or adjectives being used as nouns or as adverbs, let’s take a moment to appreciate the flexibility of the parts of speech. As Edward Sapir put it, the multiplicity of ways in which we express ourselves may be a "welcome luxuriance" or "an unavoidable and traditional predicament." Which it is may depend on our temperament.

Edwin L. Battistella teaches linguistics and writing at Southern Oregon University in Ashland, where he has served as a dean and as interim provost. He is the author of of Sorry About That: The Language of Public Apology (OUP 2014; 2016), which is now available in paperback. His other books include Do You Make These Mistakes in English? (OUP, 2009), Bad Language (OUP, 2005), and The Logic of Markedness (OUP, 1996).

This article originally appeared on the Oxford University Press blog and is included here with permission.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.


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