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Anthimeria You!

“What verb,” asks Helen Sword in the latest “Draft” column in The New York Times, “describes the act of creating a new verb from another part of speech? Verbify, of course—or, simply, verb.” She’s right—to an extent. She goes on to give examples that add the usual suffixes to nouns and adjectives to create verbs—prettify from pretty, Mondayize from Monday, Californicate from … well, let’s not go there. She then proceeds to produce the more academic terms zero derivation, functional shifting, and my favorite, anthimeria, to describe the morphing of a noun into a verb.

My sense, though, is that (at least) two different shiftings are taking place. The sort that Sword refers to, wherein a prefix or suffix supplies the shift, receives little notice except when a double shift has taken place, as in solution, being the noun form of solve, morphs into the ugly solutionize. The other sort of shifting—the Let’s Pizza coinage—seems truly anthimeric to me, and a whole lot more fun.

Perhaps, as linguists tell us, we’ve always done this sort of thing; we need only refer to Shakespeare (“The thunder would not peace at my bidding”—King Lear) to refute those who whine about googling. But what’s exploded in our lifetimes is the use of anthimeria in slogans. Not just verbing, but nouning, and not just from one to the other, but elevating those decorative items, the adjectives and adverbs. So we have “Let’s Tanqueray,” “Unleash Deadly” (Adidas), “Celebrate Legendary” (Nike). Nancy Friedman has a delightful blog devoted to “names, brands, writing, and the language of commerce” that details many of these anthimeric constructions, and she will convince you that, say, Apple’s “Think Different” is not a nonstandard way of writing “Think Differently,” but an anthimeric use of different as the object of the transitive verb “think.”

I find myself anthimerizing (a verbing, though I don’t think a strictly anthimeric one) more and more these days. In the summer, we inhabit a cabin near Lenox, Mass., where I like to take friends to windowshop at my favorite expensive-dress store, the Purple Plume. “We’ll be pluming for a couple of hours, then we’ll meet you at the bookstore,” I tell my husband. He gets the code, much as brand-name companies expect we will get (and appreciate) their advertising anthimeria.

Which brings me, on the eve of the election, to True the Vote. In an election where truth has been elusive and charges of lying omnipresent, the name of an organization that spreads rumors about voter fraud in order to mount obstacles to voting seems at first not just anthimeric, but a contradiction in terms. Yet like many apparent instances of anthimeria, the verb here is either obsolete or imaginatively used, at least if we trust the OED. True, as a verb, once meant “to prove true or verify.” Even today, in the mechanical arts, to true is to adjust or shape accurately, as one might true the edge of a table. In either of these senses, the name of the organization seems honorable enough. But because we have come to anticipate functional shift in slogans of this sort, we tend to read True the Vote as laying a claim to truth, which has sadly become a partisan commodity.

Well, let’s all go vote optimistic, or optimize the vote; let’s bag the cynicism and future the country. Afterward, to reward myself, I just may go plume.

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