Q: In an NPR piece, the owner of a violin business in Chicago plays a Stradivarius violin worth millions and says, “Joshua Bell has concertized with it on three occasions.” Turning the noun “concert” into a really odd-sounding verb stopped me. Is this just a classic case of trying to use fewer words by inventing an unusual term?
A: Is the verb “concertize” legit?
Well, the US and UK versions of Oxford Dictionaries online describe it as a North American usage—that is, seen in the US and Canada, but not in the UK.
However, the Oxford English Dictionary (a different entity) says “concertize” first showed up in a British publication and has appeared in print in both the US and the UK for more than a century and a half.
(Oxford Dictionaries is a standard, or general, dictionary that focuses on the current meaning of words while the OED is a historical dictionary that chronicles the evolution of words.)
Despite the history, “concertize” seems to be more at home now in the US than in the UK. Only two of the four British standard dictionaries we searched include the word, while all four American dictionaries searched have entries for it.
Merriam-Webster Unabridged, the largest current American dictionary, describes “concertize” as an intransitive verb (one without an object) that showed up in the 1840s.
Merriam-Webster, the updated online version of Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, gives this contemporary example from Consumer Reports: “only 20 years old, yet he has been concertizing … for about a half a dozen years.”
The OED has citations for the word used intransitively (“to sing or play in concert; to perform in concerts”) as well as transitively (“to adapt or make suitable for concert performance”).
The dictionary’s earliest citation, which uses the verb intransitively, is from a March 1840 issue of the Theatrical Journal in London: “Which will take us into May, which month we shall very probably end by concertizing somewhere.”
And here’s an example from the Feb. 21, 1888, issue of the Pall Mall Gazette in London: “ ‘I cannot concertize any more. I am tired.’ So says little Hofmann.”
The dictionary’s most recent intransitive citation is from the September 1998 issue of the Strad, a British classical music magazine focusing on stringed instruments:
“I bought a Joseph Curtin violin in 1995 and concertized on it for two years.”
Four of the dictionary’s six intransitive examples are from British sources, but all four transitive examples are from American publications.
The OED’s earliest transitive citation is from the Jan. 8, 1859, issue of the New York Musical Review and Gazette:
“A trained choir may so operatize, and dramatize, and concertize the closing hymn … as to divert the attention wholly from the hymn.”
This one is from A History of Jazz in America (1952), by Barry Ulanov: “The Rhapsody in Blue … represented the most serious attempt to concertize jazz.”
The most recent transitive example is from Zimbabwe Dance, a 2000 book by Kariamu Welsh Asante: “Newly liberated African nations began to concertize the dance.”
The verb “concertize” is derived from the much older noun “concert,” which the OED says meant “agreement or harmony between things” when it showed up in the 16th century.
The dictionary’s first citation is from The Historie of Man (1578), by John Banister: “An orderly consert of Ueynes [veins], and Arteries.”
By 1600, according to the dictionary, it was being used in the musical sense of “a harmonious combination of sounds produced by a number of performers singing or playing together.”
And in the late 1600s, “concert” took on its modern sense of “a (usually public) musical performance, typically consisting of a series of separate songs or pieces.”
The OED’s first example is from a 1689 issue of the London Gazette: “The Concerts of Musick that were held in Bow-street and in York-Buildings, are now joyn’d together.”
We’ll end with this June 8, 2016, example that we found on Vanity Fair’s website: “Beyoncé Sneezed During a Concert, and Fans Lost Their Minds.”