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Month: August 2016

Take out the rubbish: When nouns become verbs

I am the first to admit, I am not always original but I do try to be topical and even then, perhaps decades out of touch. Bear with me.

The word rubbish used as a verb, first struck me about a decade ago when used by a most unsuitable boyfriend who said I had rubbished his apology gift.

The discomfort I had  – with the word  used in that sense, not the departure of the boyfriend – has never left me. And so like Mrs Chow, who wrote to The Star in  2011, I also have been curious to know: When did rubbish become a verb?

Never was there a question about its meaning, but rubbish making its way into the realm of doing rather than being has always upset me.

None-the-less Oxford Dictionaries defines rubbish the verb as (British Englishinformal) (North American English trashrubbish somebody/something to criticize somebody/something severely or treat them as though they are of no value:

rubbish

For example:

  • The book was rubbished by the critics.
  • He rubbished all my ideas, saying they were impractical.

Word Origin: late Middle English: from Anglo-Norman French rubbous; perhaps related to Old French robe ‘spoils’; compare with rubble. The change in the ending was due to association with -ish. The verb (1950s) was originally Australian and New Zealand slang.

 

Answering Mrs Chow, The Star explained that the offending word was often used in the Internet editions of some respectable British newspapers, and on BBC websites. It said editors were not finding it too informal to use in print  “but perhaps it is too informal to be used in scholarly publications.”

The Star, provided these examples: “The theory of Scandinavian racial purity cherished by Hitler and the Nazis has been rubbished by new scientific research.” (telegraph.co.uk, June 13, 2008)

“A top historian has revealed who rubbished rivals’ works in online postings.” (guardian.co.uk, April 18, 2010)

And in 2016, I find these among the thousand of responses on Google.

  • Guptas rubbish London news story – ANN7
  • Hillary Clinton rubbished health rumours on Jimmy Kimmels show (Today Online)
  • Bosso sale rubbished (Sunday News)

So it’s conclusive that rubbish is everywhere and having found its way into the verb class,  it’s here to stay.

However it still does not sit well with me, and I will make every effort to clear it from my writing path. My only other hope is that rubbish as a verb will remain too informal for the scholarly texts.

But for the noun, which has far greater potential, a  web dictionary provided the following rich alternatives.


bunk

bunkum

buncombe

guff

rot

hogwash

jive [N. Amer], 

flapdoodle [N.Amer], 

junk

nonsense

rhubarb [Brit], 

folderol, (my personal favourite)

tripe

trumpery [archaic], 

trash,

wish-wash

applesauce

codswallop [Brit], 

falderal

 

Now there’s no excuse for rubbish in your text. Use these words with prolific abandon to ensure no editor rubbishes your copy.

 

 

 

How to alternate the alternative: Grammar

As with much of the English language the correct use of this pair of words has slipped into misuse, and in some very unfortunate circumstances, accepted as the norm, or worse correct.

 

It seem the pair create somewhat of a conundrum given the discussion of usage around one or the other … which brings me to the precise point. Alternative means one or the other, that is: Butter is not available for this recipe so let’s use margarine, as the alternative.

However, Mary who is on a cholesterol controlled diet chose to alternate butter with the alternative olive oil as the fat source in her daily consumption.

Easily said and done, right? Well not so, the discussion suggests.

A source says: “Alternate can be a verb, noun, or adjective, while alternative can be a noun or adjective. In both American and British English, the adjective alternate means ‘every other’ (there will be a dance on alternate Saturdays) and the adjective alternative means ‘available as another choice’ (an alternative route: alternative medicine; alternative energy sources).

In American usage, however, alternate can also be used to mean ‘available as another choice’ an alternate plan called for construction to begin immediately rather than waiting for spring. Likewise, a book club may offer an ‘alternate selection’ as an alternative to the main selection.

Some traditionalists maintain, from an etymological standpoint, that you can have only two alternatives (from the Latin alter ‘other (of two); the other’) and that uses of more than two alternatives are erroneous. Such uses are, however, normal in modern standard English.”

Here they are nouns:

The producers … are planning to tap the cast member Matthew James Thomas to serve as an alternate for the leading man. [NY Times]

There is no medium-term alternative to the dollar for the international monetary system. [Reuters]

Portman portrays Nina Sayres, prima ballerina, with a deer-in-the-headlights look, while Mila Kunis is her alternate, seductive and potentially lethal Lily. [Waffle Reviews]

The Motorola Droid 2 Global is a solid Android smartphone for globe-trotting executives looking for a BlackBerry alternative. [CNET]

And here they are adjectives:

For those of you who use this route, signs will be up to direct you to alternate routes. [News 12]

No alternative energy source currently in development is near ready for prime time. [Slate]

  • Shklovsky says:

‘alternate’ routes should be ‘alternative’ since the plural noun implies more than one choice. The use of ‘alternate’ and ‘alternative’ is different in the UK and much of the English speaking world, from the US.

‘Alternate’ is used when things move from one option to another in sequence, from the verb ‘to alternate’. When there is a choice,’ alternative’ is preferred. ‘Alternate’ as a noun (the stand-in actor example) would be ‘alternative’ since it would be an adjectival noun – implying the word ‘choice’- and could be someone else entirely.

The American use of these words is rapidly entering the UK and, since grammatical ‘correctness’ is only determined by use, we will no doubt convert to the American forms in time, but to speak or write of an ‘alternate’ choice still sounds wrong to UK ears! Much simpler to have ‘alternate’ only when changing in sequence and ‘alternative’ for all choices, whether two or more.

  • Grammarist says:

We came across this view of “alternate” (that its use in the sense “serving in place of another” is questionable to some) in our original research for this post and considered mentioning it. But we always try to discuss words as they are now used rather than as they are traditionally used, and we find the adjectival use of “alternate” as a synonym of “substitute” or “replacement” to be very common throughout the English-speaking world, at least in news writing.

Purists, please show your support … others, your feedback is welcome.