Verbing run amok

to summit

Will verbification never stop?

I was browsing the online edition of the New York Times, minding my own business, when suddenly my eyes were drawn to a picture and its caption. It was a stunning image, to be sure, but what really drew my attention was a new — at least to me — example of verbifying, turning a noun into a verb.

teaser from NY Times
Verbifying "summit" (NY Times, 18-Jun-05)

Language is changing all the time, of course, and only a crotchety old fossil would pretend otherwise. One of the more insidious types of change is when a perfectly good noun starts to be used as a verb.

• People used to go to a party (noun), but now people party (verb). It's a proven fact that people like to party (verb, infinitive form).

• Before computers, people used to keep cats to catch a mouse (noun; small animal) in the kitchen, but now people use a mouse (noun; pointing device) to mouse (verb) around their screen, which, if they're not careful, will give them a case of repetitive stress injury (RSI).

Merriam-Webster definition for summit (verb)

But I was unprepared for the NY Times to be in the vanguard of verbification. The good folks at Merriam-Webster haven't even caught up with "to summit" meaning "to reach the summit." Somewhat surprisingly, they do have an entry for summit as a verb, meaning to "attend a summit conference."

Nevertheless, there it was, both on the home page and in the text of the article.

And who is doing all this summiting? It seems that Mr. Ed Viesturs is the first American and the 12th climber in history to reach the summit all 14 of the world's peaks that are more than 26,000 feet high.

mountain climbing
(Click picture to enlarge)

Viesturs has some interesting tales to tell, including one about finding a person "sleeping" at one of the peaks. (See sidebar for link to story.)

I do understand the rule of parsimony in writing, cutting out superfluous words. But really, "to reach the summit of" is only three small words longer than "to summit," and speaking for myself, I think it suggests something more noteworthy and significant. Your opinion may differ, as the NY Times' opinion clearly does.