By Joe Diorio
My 2018 Toyota Camry probably has more pickup than the 1967 Shelby Cobra I drove as a young man.* The national speed limit was 55 miles per hour back then. It’s up to 70 now in most places, indicating that limits are being extended.
I’ll let sociologists and urban studies experts decide if there’s a connection between increased horsepower and speed limits. My point (and I do have one, as goes the title of a great book by Ellen DeGeneres) is that rules can change as things evolve.
Our language is a great example of rules changing. At one time the grammar police (“to serve and correct” is their motto) would cite the errant writer who verbs too many nouns. Take “weaponize” for example. Really, please take it.
- The New York Times on March 9: “How Congress is weaponizing a series of hot-button votes.”
- Politico.com on February 27: “New York GOP looks to weaponize Amazon fallout.”
- Salon on December 7, 2018: “How mainstream media helps weaponize far-right conspiracy theories.”
- And the one that fried my cheese happened in Legal Sports Report on March 7: “MLB Makes First Move to Weaponize Official Data In Lineup Dustup.” There’s no crying or verbing nouns in baseball, as far as I’m concerned.
The article “ize” is a verb-forming suffix that comes from words that entered the language from Latin or French, like baptize, or barbarize. It is added to adjectives and nouns to form transitive verbs with the general senses “to render” or “make” and it converts or gives a specified character or form to something.
The “ize” extension is getting a boost from the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) as it rebuilds Interstate 440, a partial beltway surrounding Nashville. The concrete and pothole-festooned surface of the highway must first be removed. To do this, TDOT is using a huge machine, the “Badger Breaker,” to break up the concrete surface of the highway and use the remaining rubble as the base of the new highway.
In a recent television interview, Kathryn Schulte, community relations officer for TDOT, referred to this process as rubblization. This essentially “nouns” a verb that had once been a noun. And if you think that sentence is confusing, try driving on 440 during rush hour nowadays … an endeavor TDOT suggests we avoid, just as I plead for the avoidance of “weaponize,” but I’m digressing again.
TDOT admits that rubblization as well as its friends “rubblize,” “rubblized,” and “rubblizing” are absent from the dictionary, but rightfully (yes, rightfully) stands by its usage.
“I think there is a gray area somewhere in the rubble of our 440 project (see what I did there?),” says TDOT’s Heather Jensen. She and Schulte point out that the term is germane to highway construction. Having worked in high tech for many years – where IBM would refer to overhead projector transparencies as “foils” – I concede there are words that are unique to the industry one works in. I’d say we shouldn’t weaponize our disparagement of new words.
Let’s write carefully out there, people.
* Full disclosure: I drove it when my sister – the Cobra’s rightful owner – let me borrow the keys.
Joe Diorio is a writer living in Nashville, Tennessee. You should tell your friends and colleagues about him.