The Grammarphobia Blog

A usage to diary for?

Q: Is “diaried” the past tense of the verb “diary”? Example: “I diaried a notation this morning that Ms. Heard did not show up for her Aug. 12th appointment.”

A: If “diary” is used as a verb, then “diaried” would be the expected past-tense form.

But there’s not a trace of the usage in standard dictionaries, though Internet searches turn up a few hundred examples.

The only source we’ve found is Wiktionary, which describes “diary” as an intransitive verb meaning “to keep a diary or journal.” An intransitive verb doesn’t have a direct object, as in “She diaries every evening before going to bed.”

Wiktionary lists “diarying” as the present participle and “diaried” as the past tense and past participle. It gives only one published example:

“As part of her mindful movement practise, diarying is important to Sarah,” from Mindful Walking (2015), by Hugh O’Donovan.

It’s difficult to tell how widespread the verb “diary” is, since misspellings get in the way of Internet searches. Many hits for “diarying” and “diaried” are in fact about milking cows.

[Update, Sept. 14, 2016. A reader of the blog writes: “ ‘Diary’ as a verb is a very common usage in the US in the legal profession. It is used synonymously with ‘calendar,’ as in ‘I will calendar our next meeting up for one week’ or ‘I diaried her file up for a follow-up in 30 days’ (‘up’ in this usage is synonymous with ‘forward’). I haven’t heard it much outside the legal profession.”]

However, we’ve found that “to diary” may mean different things to different people. That’s because the noun “diary” has different meanings, depending on where you live.

In American English, a diary is a personal journal of one’s reflections and experiences. But in current British English, it often means something else—an appointment book or datebook.

The differing uses of the noun “diary,” British versus American, are given in several dictionaries published in the UK—Cambridge, Longman, Macmillan, Oxford Dictionaries online.

And the linguist Lynne Murphy has discussed them on her blog Separated by a Common Language.

Consequently, it’s likely that an American using “diary” as a verb would mean it in the Wiktionary sense—to keep a diary or journal. But to a British speaker it would also mean to make a note in a calendar, appointment book, or business planner.

We’ve found the verb “diary” used both ways on British websites, but most often it’s used transitively in the business sense, as in “He diaried a sketch of the proposed tower.”

Some British commentators have said the verb “diary” is common in offices, but we’ve also found an online tutorial by a British video blogger on “How to diary”—that is, how to keep a personal journal of one’s “deepest hopes and fears.”

In your question, you use the verb in a transitive way—with a direct object (“I diaried a notation”). So you mean it in the sense of “make a note,” and you intend it in a businesslike way. (Perhaps you’re British?)

We’re in new territory here and we won’t speculate further.

As we mentioned above, none of the US or UK standard dictionaries we usually consult accept “diary” as a verb, and neither does the Oxford English Dictionary.

But a similar verb, “diarize,” has been around for a while.

The OED defines “diarize” as a verb meaning “to write a record of events in a diary.” However, it lists only a couple of intransitive examples from the 19th century.

Another source, Oxford Dictionaries online, labels that OED usage as obsolete now, and describes “diarize” (or “diarise”) as a transitive verb meaning to note an appointment in a diary. These are among the examples it gives:

“Mr Williams said he had diarised the invite and hoped to attend” … “He diarised them as recurring ‘team update’ meetings for 10:30 a.m. daily.”

The Cambridge Business English Dictionary gives this definition of how “diarize” is used today: “to write down your future arrangements, meetings, etc. in a diary” and “to record in a diary events that have happened during a period of time.”

The granddaddy of the verbs is of course the noun “diary,” which first appeared in English writing in 1581 as a borrowing from Latin. The Latin noun diarium, derived from dies (day), originally meant “daily allowance” and later “a journal, diary,” the OED says.

Many other English words can be traced back to the Latin dies. They include “diurnal” (daily); “sojourn” (etymologically, to spend a day in a place); “journey” (which once meant a day’s work or travel); “journeyman” (originally one qualified to do a day’s work); and even “journal” (daily happenings).

So how, you’re probably asking, did a Latin word beginning with “d” result in all those English words spelled with “j”?

The consonant change occurred as Old French was developing from Latin, according to August Brachet in An Etymological Dictionary of the French Language (3rd ed., 1882).

In the 8th and 9th centuries, the French began replacing some “d” words derived from Latin with “j” words, which eventually begat all those “j” spellings in English.

So “diary” and “journal” are related in their ancestry as well as in their meaning.

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