Friday, February 10, 2006

Super-exciting verbing!

My colleague David sent around a comment on one of the many breathless announcements we get at work. I'll just quote the text and his comments.

Here's an excerpt:
Several beta programs for XXXX are already underway and we are making great progress, but we still need your help to customer-ready these services. [...] If you're already dogfooding some of our services – thank you. If not, we need your help [...] Below you’ll find more details on each of the betas you can trial [...]

Here's David:
Obviously, dogfooding is old hat. But I've never seen customer-ready as a verb! Though if it said "to ready these services for customers" or something like that, I wouldn't have noticed. A noun stack converted to verb! And then, the tour de force: trial as a transitive verb! Cool. I'm super excited to cutting-edge these locutions!

Update After our initial super-excitement! had died down a little, David and I chatted about this. As with most things linguistic, these locutions are not random and do not come out of thin air. (Right, they come out of thick air.) We noted, for example, that to ready is an established verb, so to customer-ready isn't perhaps as much of a stretch as it might seem on first hearing. And we poked a little bit at what possible subtle differences in coloration might obtain between to trial and (for example) to test. We agreed that testing is a somewhat generic verb, whereas trial has a slight connotation of to try out -- we do not, for instance, buy shampoo in "test-size" bottles. So there is some difference there, which the author(s) were apparently trying to capture.

We also noted that this type of unabashed repurposing of words is for the most part not done by those of us who think about every (well, many of the) words we write. "That can't be right!" is probably not a thought that the author of the announcement entertained when writing the verbs in question. David pointed out that the announcement was, unusually, correct in every other way -- grammar, punctuation, verb agreement, and many of the other niceties that are often considered secondary to the many! exciting! things! that the announcements have to say. So clearly the text had been reviewed, or at least, put together by someone who is not inexperienced in basic English writing skills.

Another Update (2/15/06) Saul forwarded an email from Comcast that announced "Comcast would like to invite you to trial a Beta version of one of our latest communication products, Comcast Video Instant Messenger." It's a trend!


Anonymous said...

I think the distinction is pretty clear. They don't want you to "test" it - they want you to BUY it, and they're offering you a trial period, hoping that once the time's up you'll be so in love with it that you will buy it.

WordzGuy said...

Yes, that seems like a good distinction. In fact, I particularly like your insight as regards the vaguely weasel-like technique of offering people a "free trial period" that automatically slides into a subscription after, say, 30 days unless you explicitly call them up and cancel.