Dialogues Grow – verbing nouns


Saturday breakfast at my house means competition for the New York Times.  For us, that’s the paper of record.

While I cook, my spouse laughs, and reads snippets aloud.  By the time I get the paper, the food is generally consumed.  But that’s part of sharing a scarce resource.  (I could read the Times on my electronic devices, but it’s just not the same.)

This morning, the conversation turned to some of our least favorite, overused words.

Dialogue is not often used as a verb.  At least, not until recently.  And when I looked up the definitions, it was pretty clear why:

n

  1. Conversation between two or more people
  2. An exchange of opinions on a particular subject; discussion
  3. The lines spoken by characters in drama or fiction
  4. A particular passage of conversation in a literary or dramatic work
  5. A literary composition in the form of a dialogue
  6. A political discussion between representatives of two nations or groups

vb

—    (tr) to put into the form of a dialogue
—    (intr) to take part in a dialogue; converse

Dialogue as a noun appears in English as early as the 13th century.  Greek and Latin roots of this word (dialogus) mean to speak (or lecture) [logus] across space [dia] — or to have a conversation among people.  Many can engage in a dialogue (dia- means across, di- means two, which causes confusion); every play involves monologue or duologue (two people speaking) or dialogue (conversation among people).

But people have been using this word as both a transitive and an intransitive verb (taking an object, or not) since the late 16th century, and recently this use has become much more common.  I’m just not convinced that it’s being used effectively.

Not content with having a discussion or a conversation, now one wants to dialogue with someone else or some group of someones.  I don’t know why.  Maybe there’s a benefit to our lexicon to have another verb.  But the most common usage for dialogue is as a noun — and there are so many other verbs we can use (negotiate, confer, reason, deliberate, discuss, consult . . )

Another pet peeve that continues to rankle (cause annoyance or resentment that persists) — grow (as in, grow the economy, grow the work force, grow the housing market).  This is a headline-writers word choice; short and sweet. But this usage has always made me uncomfortable — and it really sets off my spouse.  So, I looked up ‘grow‘.  According to the dictionary, grow means:

  1. To increase by natural development, as any living organism or part by assimilation of nutriment; increase in size or substance.
  2. To form and increase in size by a process of inorganic accretion, as by crystallization.
  3. To arise or issue as a natural development from an original happening, circumstance, or source:  Our friendship grew from common interests.
  4. To increase gradually in size, amount, etc.; become greater or larger; expand:  His influence has grown.
  5. To become gradually attached or united by or as if by growth:  The branches of the trees grew together, forming a natural arch.

In my experience, I can grow a garden.  As I age, I might grow more conservative.  I might grow larger than I want to.  But that sense of gradually increasing in size through natural causes or general circumstances becomes lost when we use grow to mean increase, enlarge, develop or expand.

Don’t even get me started on disingenuous — another word I’m hearing entirely too often.  I like to think I’m fairly liberal.  But sometimes I feel quite conservative.

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