23 July 2010

Nouns and Verbs

This week i found out about a five-part series on language, titled Planet Word. That it will air on BBC2--meaning without cable or satellite i'm unable to watch it--doesn't considerably quell my excitement.

The creator of the series, Stephen Fry, is nationally renowned (in Britain) as the quizmaster of QI and was voted the most intelligent man in 2006 by the readers of RT.

In a recent interview, he said something intriguing, yet profound. 'We are not nouns, we are verbs,' said Fry. 'I am not a thing – an actor, a writer – I am a person who does things – I write, I act – and I never know what I am going to do next. I think you can be imprisoned if you think of yourself as a noun.'

How often do we think of ourselves as nouns? We use nouns to describe ourselves relationally as brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, co-workers, friends, classmates, roommates and neighbors. We use nouns to talk about our vocations: fire fighter, chef, salesman, street vender, exterminator, construction worker. Even some of our accomplishments are listed as nouns. We talk about being high school or college graduates, environmental advocates, philanthropists, investors, artists and gardeners.

When we use nouns to describe ourselves, we are using inactive words to describe active people.

We may be brothers, daughters, neighbors and classmates, but if we don't act as a brother, daughter, neighbor or classmate, we aren't truly fulfilling the meaning of the word.

Additionally, our jobs should not define us as inactive nouns. A job is active and moving, even if it takes place at a desk in a cubicle.

Especially when we talk about our accomplishments, what we say should be full of the life and activity only verbs can give language. There is subtle difference between a 'graduate' and one who 'graduated,' but that subtlety is crucial. Like the man who exercises every day, the difference fails to manifest immediately. Gradually, a new picture is painted of a man who is healthier, more fit, and more energized.

Our lives are not defined by what we are, but what we do. Our language and the words we use to describe ourselves should reflect as much.

13 July 2010


It's been said many times before that the world continues to become busier and move faster. It's our own doing, really. We push to expand our profits, our margins, our customer base; we drive fast cars to fast food in fast forward lives. Our company names reflect that.

Recently, the world-renowned YMCA (and it's sister, the YWCA) changed their corporate name. What was once four letters drops to one, the Y. It seems the impetus behind the name change came from the people who belonged to the organization.

The New York Times quotes Kate Coleman, senior vice president and chief marketing officer, as saying it was how they decided to become 'warmer, more genuine, more welcoming' by calling themselves what everyone else calls them.

(It wasn't a complete change over. The individual clubs will retain the full acronym.)

What does it mean when an organization changes their official name to their nickname? There must be some need for companies and organizations to sound more friendly through nicknames, it's becoming a wicked habit.

Proctor & Gamble keeps their full name, but in all the marketing, they dropped down to P&G.

British Petroleum, after acquiring a few other oil companies, dropped everything but the letters, BP.

Kentucky Fried Chicken is legally KFC, but uses both in promotions. Might have something to do with the rumor they changed their name due to a lack in chicken in their food.

General Electric, like Proct....P&G, keeps their full name for official business, but gets buddy buddy with the consumer through the initials GE.

AT&T, NPR, and countless others use their initials for marketing purposes, or officially changed their names to only letters. Some, like IBM, used their initials from the beginning, leaving consumers in the dark to their meaning all along. (For the record, IBM stands for Industrial Business Machines.)

I'm frustrated by a nation that feels the need to officially shrink the names of businesses in order to reach out to customers. It's one thing to accept and embrace a nickname; it's entirely different to take that moniker as your official title.

Shortening the names that once stood for something is taking out the meat between the bones. All that's left is a skeletal structure of a name. I might as well change my name to mb and be done with it.