It was a pleasant August morning, too nice of a day for any foolishness.
We were touring a historic fort, and some children had climbed the stairs for a better view of things. Tiring of that, down they came. A little one – maybe 5 – held the hand of a far littler one, who was taking each big step slowly and carefully. A nice moment.
Then I heard it.
“That’s good cousining, Amber/Emma/Sarah/whatever the popular girl’s name was five years ago.”
That can’t be right. Mom/aunt/grandma didn’t just use “cousin” as a verb, did she?
No matter. It’s just a trifling thing. Move on.
A CEO grimly determined to stick to his talking points agreed to go on the business channel the other day and talk about the impact of tariffs. His company makes stuff out of imported raw goods.
Well, he said again and again, we’re not going to kneejerk. Won’t you eventually have to pass along higher costs? Maybe, sure, but we’re not going to kneejerk. So, your plan? Not kneejerk.
OK, I’ll offer him a plan. Hire better PR people for your TV prep. They might steer you away from such jarring phrasing.
It’s risky to get too righteous about these things. Over time, nouns and verbs jump back and forth in usage and have done so since at least the age of Shakespeare. (Who? Shakespeare? He invented Twitter. Everyone knows that.) Formally, it’s called “denominalization.” Whether this is innovation, irritation or the end of the world is mostly a matter of perspective.
So is “ask” a noun? Good grief, it really is these days. It’s the same with “dialogue,” “fellowship” and good old “transition.” Eew.
Thirty years ago I heard an elected official say his team was taking such-and-such seriously and was trying to be “proactive.” It felt a lot like the “cousining” moment. He offered it without explanation, and we were left to deduce that it was somehow the opposite of “reactive.” I can only assume he had been to a conference and figured he’d found a word that made him 10 minutes smarter than the rest of us.
Now, there it is, in the dictionary, all gussied up like a proper word and used with a straight face by millions. The simpler “take the initiative” withers. Things change.
Mark my word. “Proactive” will be a verb eventually.
“People,” the CEO will bark, “we need to proactive this. Time’s a-wastin’.”
It will be ugly, and there will be casualties. It’s a matter of time.
– Jeff Fox is The Examiner’s editor. Reach him at 816-350-6365 or firstname.lastname@example.org. He gripes about language and other things on Twitter at @FoxEJC.