Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A Grammar Question

So this came up at work today, and I figured I'd ask around.

The subject we were discussing was turning nouns to verbs. We talked about how many nouns were also verbs, and how fluid English was in this regard. Well, on noun inevitably came up: Google. Google as a noun is a proper noun, because it refers to a noun representing a unique entity (in this case, the company Google). Like any noun, Google is has also become a verb. So the question raised was this: does one capitalize Google when using it as a verb? That is, "I had G/googled the answer?" It's a transitive verb, which means it's passing the action of the object onto the subject of the sentence: "I [sub.] had G/googled [verb. trans.] the answer [dir. obj.]." So it's regarded as a normal class of verb, serving a functional part of the sentence.

Normally, we wouldn't capitalize a verb. However, this verb is derived from a proper noun. In capitalizing it, we would turn it into one of English's handful of "proper verbs" - verbs that must always be capitalized. The further confuse matters, we capitalize adjectives derived from proper nouns; cf. Japanese, Australian, French, Korean, American, and we also capitalize adverbs derived from proper nouns, however rare they are; cf "We have regularly received enquiries regarding the availability of Islamic finance products, in particular Islamically compatible finance to purchase both residential and commercial properties".

Why wouldn't you capitalize a verb derived from an proper noun? Further more, wouldn't that make it a "proper verb", seeing as how the above are called "proper adjectives/adverbs/nouns"?

There's a few cases against it: boycott is derived from a proper noun. So is xerox. Neither of them are capitalized when used as a verb. However, "Canadianize", or "Americanize", are verbs that are capitalized. So would you extend the capitalization then to "Photoshop", "YouTube", and "Google" as well?

I'm of the belief that you should. And I think an entirely new class of verb needs to be created and called "proper verb" to reflect the changing and evolving nature of the language. Sound off in the comments below with your thoughts. I'm curious.

1 comment:

  1. Thoughts on this:

    Syntactically, proper nouns are slightly different from common nouns in that they don't use articles. Proper adjectives and verbs, meanwhile, are treated the same syntactically as common adjectives and verbs. So the distinction between proper and common nouns is more important syntactically than with other parts of speech.

    Not all adjectives derived from proper nouns are proper adjectives. "Laconic", for example is a common adjective ultimately derived from the proper noun "Λακεδαίμων" or "Lacedaemon". So the presence of verbs like boycott and xerox doesn't make verbs different from adjectives in regards to capital letters.

    And IIRC the linguistics textbook I'm reading already mentions the existence, in English, of verbs derived from proper nouns which are given capital letters, and gives "Google" as an example. I don't think it calls them "proper verbs", 'though.

    (Intersection Victorian)