Originally published 27 Oct 2014. James Kilpatrick may have been best known for his syndicated political newspaper column, but I preferred his weekly column about writing and English called “The Writer’s Art.” I loved it when in his column he’d put on his virtual judicial robes and open the Court of Peeves, Crotchets, and Irks, for what followed would be a humorous, incisive invective on foibles of our English language.
Kilpatrick passed in 2010. I miss his column.
I wonder how he’d address a trend I’m hearing that dips from the well of nominalization. I’m in favor of making nouns from other parts of speech when the conversion is necessary or helpful. This is how we get useful words like investigation, which is an ancient nominalization of investigate.
But I don’t think ask and spend need to be used as nouns. To be fair, there’s precedent: etymologists have found occasional uses of these words as nouns going back almost 400 years. It’s like a recurring passing fad. But the poor dears don’t even get the whole treatment, as they are not transformed (as investigate becomes investigation). They are used as is:
Ask: What are the asks here? My ask is that you deliver the project by next Friday. Wow, that’s a big ask.
Spend: Our marketing spend exceeded budget again last month. This month, we anticipate a spend of about $1 million.
This usage makes one sound savvy, in the know. But it also pulls the punch and blurs meaning, making concrete expectations and budgets seem abstract. Ask even carries a passive-aggressive note. What happens when we say exactly what we mean?
Ask: What do you want? I want you to deliver the project by next Friday. Wow, I’m not sure that’s possible.
Spend: We overspent our marketing budget again last month. This month, we plan to spend about $1 million.
Ah, sweet clarity!
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