by Kristi R. Johnson
“Conversion, also known as zero-derivation, is a kind of word-formation involving the creation of a word (of a new word class) from an existing word (of a different word class) without any change in form, which is to say, derivation using only zero.”
That’s right fellow word nerds. Today the WNW will discuss one of my favorite things to do: making up words from existing words by simply changing how they are used. Probably the easiest example of this for today’s audience would be the alternate uses of the term “Google.”
Google is of course the seemingly all-knowing and all-seeing search engine that millions of people use everyday. But the word is also used as a verb, and many users, myself included, use it as a different way to say “search.”
Friend: “Hey, how many predictions have The Simpsons made that have come true already?”
Me: “I dunno. There have been a lot though. Google it.”
This practice is known as conversion, though I prefer its second name, zero-derivation. I feel like the latter makes it sound much more complicated and lends a certain amount of legitimacy to a practice that is little more than people misusing words until enough other people also misuse it to the point that it eventually becomes official.
Probably my favorite example of this is that zero-derivation can also be described as “verbing” something, which allows us to turn the word “verb” into a verb.
Aaaaand I think I just heard your head explode.
There is one that I have been working to make stick since 2010, when it made its first appearance in an episode of Community. Currently, the term “Goldbluming” has an entry in Urban Dictionary where it is said to mean going from extremely intoxicated to sober in a short period of time, a la Jeff Goldblum’s character in Independence Day. However, I prefer the meaning as it applied to Jeff Winger (played by Joel McHale) in Community, which is when someone loads the first half of their sentences with a bunch of filler words and non-verbal grunts. Seriously, watch Jeff’s behavior in the study room scene in the “Beginner Pottery” episode and you’ll see what I mean.
What are some of your favorite conversions in the English language? There are plenty of them out there, many of them much more tame than the examples I have given here.