Onboarding – the shape shifting English language

New verbs in the English language are coming at us from all directions.

I recently registered with a website and was told I had onboarded. I’ve since seen onboarding used several times.

Since when did this become a verb?

One of the beauties of any language is the way it’s a shapeshifter – growing and changing to suit the needs of us, its masters.

We use language to say what we mean and words turning from nouns, adjectives – even people’s names – into verbs is commonplace.

We’re blogging, emailing and texting; at work we might be mentoring, strategising and actioning; while having battled (oops, there’s another) home through the traffic we could be vacuuming, gaming, phoning our friends or maybe unfriending them instead.

An academic exercise

If you Google it (add that one to the list), you’ll see that there’s no end of discussion on verbing.

Some treat it as an academic subject (it’s been going on longer than you’d think) while others, for example, look at how brand names have slipped into our everyday language, with many citing social media use as the main culprit for recent additions.

Words turning from nouns, adjectives – even people’s names – into verbs is commonplace

And it’s not just verbs. I have a good friend whose ears steam every time he hears the word invite used as a noun. “It’s an invitation!”

The French have always been very protective about their language. The Académie française, that guardian of all things French and wordy, has a handy section entitled Dire, Ne Pas Dire (Say, Don’t Say) giving advice and guidance on those sticky linguistic questions, referring, for example, to the verb prioriser (to prioritise) as “a barbarism”.

Don’t panic

For those of us using English, it’s really a case of going with the flow on a tide that’s unlikely to turn.

As long as people want to get across what they mean, they’ll find words to do so.

I’ll continue onboarding.

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