Verbing! ~ Outside the Margins with KJ Charles

Join Prism Book Alliance® as KJ Charles goes Outside the Margins today.


I am a writer, an editor and a mother of young children. As such, I spend a lot of time correcting grammar.

Daughter: I drawnt a picture—


Son: I done three levels—

Me: DID.

Daughter: When you bornt your baby—

Me: B…er…um… GAVE BIRTH TO?

Kids are natural wordmakers. My two look at ‘Saracens versus Northampton Saints’ on the fixture sheet and announce, “We’re versing Saints today.” And everyone agrees that’s adorable, and then an adult makes a verb out of a noun and everyone’s up in arms. “Ugh! ‘Surveille’! ‘Liaise’! Why must people abuse the English language like this?” Gloriously, the process of turning nouns into verbs is called ‘verbing’, which almost suggests someone wanted to send language pedants into meltdown.

These words come about because we need them. ’Surveille’ has become necessary because there isn’t a single word for ‘to carry out surveillance’, and in the age of the NSA, we need one. Just as ‘versing’ is a highly useful way to express the concept ‘two professional sports teams playing each other’. I’d start using it if I were you.

I was thinking about this because my husband’s iPad is on the fritz. It drops out for a couple of hours or days, refusing to accept our wifi, and then suddenly, just as he decides to get a new one, it starts working again.

Mr KJC: I can’t look it up because my iPad is—GAH no it’s connecting again! I was just holding it and it wasn’t working and now it is! Is it me, am I doing something wrong?

Me: Wow. Your iPad gaslighted you.

Daughter, with intense relish: GASLIT.

Now, I write Regency and Victorian historical novels. I know damn well that a foggy London street with pools of yellow illuminating the sinister miasma is gaslit. But a baffled British chap with a maliciously malfunctioning iPad is gaslighted. Why? Well, because ‘to gaslight’ is a verbing of the title of the film Gaslight, in which Charles Boyer attempts to persuade Ingrid Bergman she’s going mad by moving things around, pretending things never happened, and denying that the gaslight is flickering. It’s a great film, and it’s become the name for this particular sort of psychological abuse. (This woman learned she was being gaslighted, and made her boyfriend sit down and watch the film with her before dumping his sorry arse.)

But KJ, you may say, that’s all very well and I’ve put it on my Netflix queue, but the past participle of ‘light’ is ‘lit’. Very true. To gaslight, meaning ‘to light with gas’, works just like ‘to light’ (see also ‘lamplit’). But ‘to gaslight’, meaning to be an abusive scumbag, has nothing to do with light, and therefore the brain doesn’t treat it as a form of the verb ‘to light’ requiring an irregular ending. Instead it treats the word as a new unit, and supplies the regular standard ‘-ed’ part participle. I gaslight you, I am gaslighting you, you have been gaslighted.

And this is the point. I didn’t have to wonder what the past participle of ‘gaslight [abuse]’ was: my brain supplied it. (My daughter, being unfamiliar with psychological abuse except the kind supplied by her little brother, assumed I was speaking of light and demonstrated that she’s perfectly capable of irregular forms by correcting to ‘gaslit’.) It’s how the human language brain works. We verb nouns, and noun verbs. We surveil and verse, we hashtag the subject of our tweet, bleep electronic cards, say “But me no buts” and—well, what about this amazing newspaper headline?


(The politician Michael Foot was in charge of a committee looking into use of nuclear weapons. Example from here.)

To ‘burgle’, ‘edit’, ‘vaccinate’, ‘kidnap’ and ‘diagnose’ have all been verbed from nouns and you’d have to be a pretty extreme language change denier to reject them for that reason. If there is a semantic niche, a hole in the language that needs filling, our brains will cheerfully (and grammatically) repurpose a word to fill it. And there’s no point pedanting about that.


~KJ Charles


Title: A Seditious Affair
Author: KJ Charles
Publisher: Loveswept
Publication Date: 12/15/2015
Cover Artist:
Genre: Historical


Silas Mason has no illusions about himself. He’s not lovable, or even likable. He’s an overbearing idealist, a Radical bookseller and pamphleteer who lives for revolution . . . and for Wednesday nights. Every week he meets anonymously with the same man, in whom Silas has discovered the ideal meld of intellectual companionship and absolute obedience to his sexual commands. But unbeknownst to Silas, his closest friend is also his greatest enemy, with the power to see him hanged—or spare his life.

A loyal, well-born gentleman official, Dominic Frey is torn apart by his affair with Silas. By the light of day, he cannot fathom the intoxicating lust that drives him to meet with the Radical week after week. In the bedroom, everything else falls away. Their needs match, and they are united by sympathy for each other’s deepest vulnerabilities. But when Silas’s politics earn him a death sentence, desire clashes with duty, and Dominic finds himself doing everything he can to save the man who stole his heart.


A Seditious Affair on Goodreads
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About KJ Charles


Farewell Giveaway
I have a number of paperbacks, most of which are signed, to giveaway. Over the between now (11 Mar 2017) and 31 Mar 2017, every comment on the blog (this post and all other new posts), will be entered to win 1 of these paperbacks. There are also some misc swag items, so there will be a few packs of these to give away as well.

Thank you so much for your support over the last 4 years. Prism will be closing its doors on 1 April 2017. All content will remain available, but no new content will appear after 31 Mar 2017. As such all request forms have been turned off. Again Thank you,

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8 thoughts on “Verbing! ~ Outside the Margins with KJ Charles

  1. Courtesy of my youngest, in our house, when putting something together, we don’t use instructions, we use constructions. And in the bathroom we use roll-it paper. I just love the English language and the confusion it creates.

  2. I’m definitely going to pedant from now onwards.

    Thank you for explaining so clearly why new verbs may well take unexpected forms.

  3. Hear, hear! Now if the nice chaps at Merriam Webster would do this subtitle editor a favor and put ‘surveille’ in the dictionary, all would be right with the world. 😉

    Excellent post!

  4. I’ve read A Fashionable Indulgence and am looking forward to A Seditious Affair very much. This is a fun post. I have to admit that I still enjoy “verbing” nouns, though, just because it’s quirky fun. Not that I’d write with them, necessarily, but because it’s interesting and sometimes feels more like it’s expressing what I mean. Does that mean I can’t express myself adequately? Maybe. LOL. Sometimes unfortunate nouns do become verbs–such as google. “I googled myself,” is just never going to sound right. Plus, I always write it as a typo, “I goggled myself,” which makes me think of Dr. Seuss. Or A Clockwork Orange. On that note… 🙂

  5. Why not “birthed your baby”? A quick google claims it’s at least grammatically correct, if possibly southern US usage…
    Great blog post by the way. I haven’t come across “surveil” in real life.

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