The Grammarphobia Blog

Conceptual arts, part 2

Q: At almost every morning meeting in my new job, someone uses the word “concept” as a verb meaning to conceive. When a colleague begins a sentence by saying “I concepted a storyline,” it’s like nails on a chalkboard. Is this another example of the lazy “verbification” of nouns?

A: The verbing of nouns isn’t necessarily lazy, and it’s a long and honored tradition in English. However, some instances are more welcome than others. The use of “concept” as a verb strikes me as one of the unwelcome ones!

What’s wrong with “conceive” or “imagine” or “create” or “devise” or “fancy” or whatever? We have many, many perfectly acceptable ways of saying this without dreaming up a verbal uggie like “concept.”

I wrote a blog item about this two years ago, but a little googling suggests that quite a few other people, especially in the advertising industry, disagree with me and like the concept.

In fact, an advertising copywriter, Ray del Savio, began a campaign a few years ago to get the verb “concept” into Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. He set up a blog and an online petition to press his case.

But the latest edition of Merriam-Webster’s, the eleventh, still lists “concept” as a noun or an adjective, not a verb. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed.) has it only as a noun.

The Oxford English Dictionary has an entry for “concept” as a verb, but it means to conceive in the womb, not in the office. And there’s only one published citation for it in the OED, from 1643, suggesting the usage was never all that popular.

Another OED obscurity is the participial adjective “concepted,” meaning conceived or produced, but it too has only one citation, from 1665.

Finally, there’s also a lone citation, from 1594, for “concepted,” meaning “conceited,” but that’s a different animal.

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