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JENKINS: Internet jargon drives grammar purists crazy

Among those who have been driven to distraction by the technological revolution are the grammar purists. And believe me, it couldn't happen to a nicer bunch.

These linguistic obsessive-compulsives have long taken issue with the use of nouns as verbs. For example, a word like "partner" has traditionally served as a noun, as in "business partner," "dance partner" and the increasingly popular (on the WE network, at least) "life partner."

In modern-day business-ese, however, the word also functions as a verb. Phrases like "We hope you'll partner with us" and "We partnered with so-and-so" are common parlance in corporate America.

Another classic example is "task," which also used to be exclusively a noun. Now it too is a verb, meaning to ask someone to do your work for you ("She tasked them to choose a new VP").

It's only a matter of time before we extend this practice, which I call "verbing," to common slang expressions like "bling." Soon, a young man who presents his fiancee with an engagement ring will say that he "blinged her."

Personally, as a writer and grammarian, I've never had a problem with verbing. It simply reflects the natural evolution of language toward the cleanest and most economical construction -- and I think that's a good thing.

Consider more traditional alternatives to "partnered": "Became partners" or "entered into a partnership." The first adds an extra (and probably unnecessary) word, while the latter tacks on three -- all to say something that could have been said, quite clearly and succinctly, in one. Generally, I favor that kind of economy.

To grammar purists, though, such constructions are like fingernails on the proverbial chalkboard.

Unfortunately for them, the Web has opened up whole new vistas of verbing. For example, "text" used to refer to the body of a document. Yet the proliferation of cell phones has turned it first into an adjective, describing a type of message ("text" versus "voice") and then into a verb, as in "My son got suspended for texting in class."

(Note to purists: Yes, I know the word "texting" in that last sentence is not technically a verb, but I think readers who don't live in their parents' basements or have 14 cats will understand.)

Or how about a made-up proper noun, like Facebook? The word identifies a popular Internet site for millions of teenagers and the parents who can't communicate with them otherwise, but it has also come to describe what people do on that site: they Facebook each other.

We even find, in cyberspace, the inverse of verbing (nouning?), in which "tweet" now denotes a brief, trivial and possibly inane message conveyed via a certain social networking site. Heck, the word can be used as both a noun and a verb in the same sentence: "He tweeted several tweets."

To the grammar purists, that's strictly for the birds.

Rob Jenkins is associate professor of English at Georgia Perimeter College. E-mail him at rjenkinsgdp@yahoo.com.