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Tuesday
Jul242012

Turns out nouning weirds language, too

Kiwi grammarian Helen (her-pen-is-mightier-than-the) Sword has a piece in today’s NYT decrying nominalization, the act of converting verbs into nouns. She calls the results “zombie nouns.”

The proliferation of nominalizations in a discursive formation may be an indication of a tendency toward pomposity and abstraction.

The sentence above contains no fewer than seven nominalizations, each formed from a verb or an adjective. Yet it fails to tell us who is doing what. When we eliminate or reanimate most of the zombie nouns (tendency becomes tend, abstraction becomes abstract) and add a human subject and some active verbs, the sentence springs back to life:

Writers who overload their sentences with nominalizations tend to sound pompous and abstract.

Guilty as charged. Anyway, the piece reminded me of this classic:

Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson

 

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