by Bill Forman
Safire’s New York Times columns were a weekly fix for grammar-obsessed trainspotters who cared maybe just a little too much about the nuances of the English language and its recurring perversions. A typical Safire column would begin like this: “At last I am at liberty to vouchsafe to you the dozen rules in reading a political column.”
Safire might have vouchsafed all over himself this morning if he’d been alive in Colorado Springs to hear KRCC promoting a forum in which panelists will “dialogue” with each other.
For the past few centuries, dialogue has been a noun. People engaged in dialogue. But they did not dialogue. They talked.
But in recent years this noun-to-verb shift has found its way into corporate jargon and is now fully embraced by business visionaries as they ramp up productivity while drilling down into core competencies and maximizing deliverables. (Oh, and by the way, you apparently forgot to put one of the new cover sheets on your TPS report.)
Of course, this re-purposing also works in reverse. Today's most prevalent verb-to-noun shift has virtually no historical OR bureaucratic precedent.
“Fail” is a verb. Even when it’s all-caps. Even when it's epic. You may fail, but you cannot BE a fail. What you are is a failure.
One final example: Earlier this month, two of our staffers were calling around to every café in existence, asking the proprietors where they “source” their coffee from.
At first this sounded pretentious and wrong, but it turns out that it’s only pretentious. According to some dictionary we found online, you can safely use "source" as a transitive verb without risking the wrath of Safire’s wraith.
This, of course, is a great relief, and now we're all wondering how we got along without it:
“Nice shoes, Adrian, where’d you source them from?”
“Who do you gotta blow to source some heroin around here?”
That kind of thing.