The Grammarphobia Blog

Verbal promiscuity?

Q: I recently came across the use of “front-burner” as a verb. A trade paper said the stimulus package “has goaded the government to front-burner ubiquitous availability” of broadband. This is new to me. Is it legitimate, or just another example of promiscuous verb-from-noun horribilation?

A: Fortunately, I have never run across the clunky use of “front-burner” as a verb phrase. And I hope I never do.

As for any question of “legitimacy,” that depends on whether the expression catches on and enters the language (shudder).

I doubt that it will; it seems too ungainly.

But the people who use the English language decide what’s legit and what’s not. You and I have only one vote apiece.

In my opinion, you summed it up pretty well: another example of promiscuous verb formation.

By the way, I like “horribilation.” I can’t find it in any of my language references, but I do see an entry in the Oxford English Dictionary for “horribility,” which once meant something horrible.

I do, however, find an entry for “horripilation,” a bristling of the hair on the head or body from fear, cold, or sickness, perhaps from seeing a horribilation! (I wrote a blog item a couple of years ago on this hair-raising phenomenon.)

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