The Grammarphobia Blog

Whiteboard rafting

Q: “Whiteboarding” is the new corporate jargon for talking while drawing on napkins (i.e., giving dynamic presentations online with digital whiteboards). Can I use “whiteboard” as a verb?

A: Lots of people are doing it, but dictionaries haven’t caught up with this usage yet. In fact, they haven’t even caught up with the digital version of the white plastic board that has all but replaced the blackboard in schools.

Both The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed.) and Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed.) define “whiteboard” as that glossy analog thingie that you write on with erasable markers. Neither dictionary includes the word as a verb.

The “old” whiteboard isn’t all that old, of course. The earliest published reference in the Oxford English Dictionary is a 1966 citation about “an up-to-date plastic white-board, on which one wrote with a coloured wax crayon.”

The new whiteboard is a shared digital drawing and writing surface that several people can use electronically, thanks to computer software that simulates a physical whiteboard.

So when people use the verb “whiteboard” or say they’re “whiteboarding,” they may be referring to the electronic whiteboard or to the white plastic job. Or, perhaps, they’re talking about dinner napkins!

I imagine dictionaries will eventually add the verb “whiteboard” (unless whiteboarding is replaced by something even newer). In the meantime, I don’t see any objection to using “whiteboard” as a verb as long as all parties know which kind of whiteboard you mean.

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