Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Nominalizations

I learned a new word today--the title of the blog today. Courtesy of my increasingly learned 3rd-year law student son, Bernard. Who alerted me to a continuing series in the New York Times called simply "Draft". Here's how the series describes itself:
Draft features essays by grammarians, historians, linguists, journalists, novelists and others on the art of writing — from the comma to the tweet to the novel — and why a well-crafted sentence matters more than ever in the digital age.
How I didn't latch on to this a long time ago, I don't know. But I'm onto it now. If the column I read today is any indication of the overall quality of the series it's going to take me a while to get caught up, because apparently it's been going on for a while.

Oh, nominalizations (which the spell checker didn't recognize). Well, let's let the fine writer of this week's column, Helen Sword, tell you:
Take an adjective (implacable) or a verb (calibrate) or even another noun (crony) and add a suffix like ity, tion or ism. You’ve created a new noun: implacability, calibration, cronyism. Sounds impressive, right? 

Nouns formed from other parts of speech are called nominalizations. Academics love them; so do lawyers, bureaucrats and business writers. I call them “zombie nouns” because they cannibalize active verbs, suck the lifeblood from adjectives and substitute abstract entities for human beings . . .
 So now you know what they are too. What they do is kill clarity. Never a good thing.
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