Forgotten English

We have a Forgotten English calendar on the mantlepiece in the living room. A couple of weeks ago the word of the day was

The noise a large pin makes in going through flesh. [From] storg, a large pin.

Who would have thought that you needed a word for that sound! Presumably somewhere that happened so much — large pins being driven into people’s flesh — that they required a new word to describe it.

“Hang on a minute, love, I’ll be right there. But first I just have to … erm, drive a large pin into Mr McKenzie’s flesh. And then into Mr Hamilton’s flesh. And then into the flesh of the entire Watson family. I do wish there was a word to describe it. It sounds so clumsy to say ‘drive a large pin into’, every time.”
Mr McKenzie pipes up. “What is your pin called?”
“What is your pin called. Perhaps you could call the action after that.”
“Oh, I’m not sure about that. I’m not really a fan of nouns being used as verbs.”
“You mean ‘verbal nouns’?”
“No, a common mistake. That term is applied to the infinite parts of the verb that act as a noun, which by some grammarians is used particularly of the infinite part in -ing that has no verbal force.”
“Ah, yes, the gerund,” said Mr McKenzie, realising his foolishness. “The infinite part of a verb with the same form as the present participle, in that it ends in -ing. If only I had paid more attention in my English classes.”
“That’s right. No, I’m referring to the use of such nouns as ‘Hoover’ and ‘text’ as though they were verbs.”
“But surely that is one of the beauties of the English language,” reasoned Mr McKenzie.
“You mean ‘zero-derivation’, sometimes referred to as ‘conversion’: changing the part of speech of a word without first changing its form?”
“I do,” said Mr McKenzie. “There is a very long tradition of this in English. Unlike other Romantic and European languages there are no formal markers to differentiate which words are nouns and which are verbs.”
“I do see your point, Mr McKenzie. I can, for example, ‘hand you a book’, or ‘table a motion’.”
“That’s right. Or you could ‘face up to your responsibilities’, or ‘book yourself into an hotel’,” offered Mr McKenzie.
A hotel!”
“That’s a matter for another debate,” said Mr McKenzie.
“Indeed! And for another day. But first I must storg you!”
“Sorry?” said Mr McKenzie, looking confused.
“This pin, Mr McKenzie, is called a ‘storg’.”
“So it would become … ‘storging’.” said Mr McKenzie. “I like it.”
“So do I, Mr McKenzie, so do I. That’s why I do it for a living. Now just hold still while I stick this large pin into you…”

I love language.

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Gareth Saunders

I’m Gareth J M Saunders, 52 years old, 6′ 4″, father of 3 boys (including twins). Enneagram type FOUR and introvert (INFP), I am a non-stipendiary priest in the Scottish Episcopal Church, I sing with the NYCGB alumni choir, play guitar, play mahjong, write, draw and laugh… Scrum master at Safeguard Global; latterly at Sky and Vision/Cegedim. Former web architect and agile project manager at the University of St Andrews and previously warden at Agnes Blackadder Hall.

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