Commentary by Curtis Honeycutt
There’s an ad out right now for Google’s Chromebook laptop with a slogan that says, “Switch to a new way to laptop.” While I’m hesitant to disparage any of our digital overlords for fear of being stricken from search results, I feel obligated to take a stand. You can’t “laptop” something; “laptop” isn’t a verb.
While I try my hardest to keep things positive here at Grammar Guy H.Q., certain things grate my grammar gears. While I’ve touched on the “verbification” of nouns before, I haven’t explored how marketers and company names have verbified nouns ad nauseam.
I know I’ve seen other versions of brazen verbification in the oversaturated commercial environment in which we live, but the Google example really made me want to laptop someone in the face.
Of course, it’s every modern company’s goal to become a verb themselves. While Bing (Microsoft’s search engine) tried hard to make “Bing” a verb, people still “Google” queries into search engines (usually Google). This made me wonder: What other company names have become verbs due to their overwhelming popularity?
When you owe a friend money these days, you don’t write them a check. You probably don’t even have cash. Instead, you “Venmo” or “PayPal” them the money from your bank account into theirs.
This brings up another confusing point: Do you keep the verbified company name capitalized? According to the AP and Chicago stylebooks, the answer is “yes,” although you’ll find the word “Google” as a verb lowercase (“google”) in many online dictionaries. The capitalization situation is in flux; stand by as this phenomenon evolves.
The official word nerd term for converting a noun into a verb is “denominalization.” While I don’t mind this word, I prefer “verbification” or even “verbing.” I like the irony of taking the noun “verb” and verbing it.
Have you talked to someone using a video feature on your smartphone? Chances are you either Skyped or FaceTimed with them. For some reason, “video chat” or “video call” doesn’t suffice. Lately, we’ve Zoomed many of our meetings, Ubered our way home from a night out with friends and Instagrammed photos of our dogs. This is what modern companies dream of: Make your product so ubiquitous that people use its name in place of a more descriptive-yet-common verb.
Until these company names become genericized (think chapstick, kleenex and thermos), I suggest capitalizing these verbified, trademarked words. If you disagree with me, feel free to conduct your own search engine research on a leading internet website.